Mental health and exercise? What is the science behind it?

There is so much in the press about mental health and exercise isn’t there? Get out there and DO something. It will make you feel better. Everyone is an expert when it comes to what we should do to improve our mental well being.

But, why does going for a walk, attending an exercise class or going to the gym improve your mood?  What’s the science behind that ‘feel-good factor’?

Exercise releases chemicals like endorphins and serotonin that can improve your mood. If you exercise regularly, it can reduce your stress and symptoms of mental health conditions like depression and anxiety.

So what are endorphins and where do they come from?

When we exercise, the body releases endorphins from the pituitary gland and hypothalamus.

The word endorphin comes from an abbreviation of endogenous morphine. Endorphins resemble opiates in their abilities to produce pain relief and a sense of well-being. So, they’re natures pain killers and mood enhancers.

The good news, however, is that unlike prescribed opiates and opioids, they are not addictive.

And what is Serotonin?

mental health and exerciseSerotonin is an important chemical and neurotransmitter in the human body. It is believed to help regulate mood, appetite, sleep and memory. So it is our naturally occurring ‘happy’.

There may be a link between serotonin and depression. But, the jury is still out on which comes first – the depression or the low serotonin.

Your GP may use SSRI antidepressants to help raise your levels of body serotonin. How they work was once explained to me as putting a cork in a leaky bucket to stop the serotonin leaking away. I thought this was quite a good analogy.  Other ways to increase body serotonin levels may include mood induction, light, exercise, and diet. However, we aren’t suggesting you try DIY serotonin replacement rather than seeking guidance. Please do consider a combination of professional support and self-help.

Exercise can also reduce levels of the body’s stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. So, there is some pretty strong evidence to show that exercise can be good for helping improve mental health.

Combine this with the already known physical benefits and we should have a perfect solution.

But how much exercise do you need to get this positive mental health effect?

We know that to improve physical health we should be doing 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week. But is it the same for mental well-being? And what sort of exercise is best?

How about trying low impact aerobics, gardening, cycling, swimming, walking and housework ? Apparently, they are all good for raising endorphin levels enough to improve your mood. Although personally, I remain unconvinced about housework! And of course, attending an FLexercise class can be a great addition. We know how to make people feel welcome and part of a group. You may find you smile for the first time in a long time when you come to our classes and that is a good thing.  https://www.fl-exercise.com/find-a-class/

Whatever you do, it’s important that you enjoy it, or you won’t stick with it. We are not suggesting that exercise is the complete solution to mental health issues. However, it is a powerful weapon in the fight against a crippling problem.

Remember, the most important thing is to talk to someone. Don’t suffer in silence.

Good luck. x