We are all aware of how beneficial physical activity is.
You probably know that laziness and physical inactiveness are at the very core of every chronic health condition such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, obesity, osteoporosis and as much as I don’t like to say it – early death.
Therefore, I am guessing that a third of you out there are already exercising.
But, did you know that despite controlling your weight, reducing the risk of heart disease, managing the body’s sugar and insulin levels, improving your sleep, strengthening your bones and muscles, reducing the risk of cancer, physical activity is also very beneficial to your mental health?
Yes, the rates of anxiety and depression are their highest recorded levels right now. And yes, we are living in a world, where poor nutrition, constant stress, envy, greed, social exhaustion, and heartlessness are draining our energy.
These are all environmental factors that are affecting our health. But we mustn’t forget that inactivity is just another key factor.
Physical activity is known to be the best stress reliever. Just think about how a simple walk in the part can immediately improve your mood. Or how a good and sweaty exercise can help you release your body from all the accumulated negative energy and make you feel as good as new afterward. Well, that is the endorphins (natural pain and stress fighters) and the enkephalins (the powerful painkillers) working their magic into your body. That is why focusing on physical activity can give you a break from your concerns and the harmful self-criticism.
But what’s even more intriguing is that physical activity is not only good for your physical and mental health, but it is also considered a cure for chronic mental illnesses.
Researches have shown that exercising is truly beneficial to our mental health. A cohort study published in the American Journey of Psychiatry showed that exercise reduces the possibility of depression. Furthermore, another research has also shown that regular exercise improves memory by stimulating the growth of new blood vessels and maintains or mental health as we age.
It’s simple. Physical activity has the power to directly affect the brain. Regular exercise can be the reason for the increase in certain regions of the brain.
When we start exercising, the brain considers this a moment of stress. In order to protect us from it, the brain produces a powerful chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This neurotransmitter has a reparative effect on our memory neurons and is basically a switch. That is why we feel relieved and at ease after a good workout.
Additionally, one of the most important parts of the brain that is associated with memory, learning and emotion regulation is the hippocampus. And while it is known that many of the mental conditions such as Alzheimer’s dementia and depression are the result of decreased neurogenesis in the hippocampus, studies have shown that physical activity is responsible for neurogenesis, or in other words the creation of hippocampal neurons.
But, what does this mean?
Well, neurogenesis is essential for creating new memories and keeping the old ones intact. Meanwhile, mental illnesses are known to cause cognitive inflexibilities that force us to engage in repetitive harmful behaviors and reduces our ability to find a solution for a certain issue. Therefore, considering the fact that exercise improves our mental flexibility, it is undeniable that physical activity is indeed the key to better mental health.
Okay, but how much exercise is enough?
Experts say that 3 – 5 days per week, for about 45-60 minute per one session can help even the people who suffer from chronic depression. However, you have to realize that this process requires time and a lot of hard work. Effects of regular physical activity can be noticed after a month or two.
So, what do you think? Have you started working out yet?