Does exercise really affect your mental health and stress levels??

Updated: Nov 7, 2021

One thing I have discovered about myself after years of mental health issues and injuries, if I don't keep routine around my health and my fitness, my ability to cope with stressors, physical set backs and life in general diminishes.

From a research, evidence based perspective, there are numerous studies relating to the benefits of fitness on mental health and stress. The most recent inclusion I found to be timely, was one that the World Health Organisation did in 2019. This study focused on the effects of physical activity as a modality for the effective treatment of, as well as preventative measure for people with mental illness. The focus group in the study were people with depression, dementia and schizophrenia.

An excerpt from this report states-

Physical activity can be used as a complementary strategy with other treatment modalities to prevent and manage mental health conditions, as it can delay their onset and reduce a wide range of symptoms.”(1)

It then goes on to say-

“Biological factors could also contribute to the effects: physical activity leads to an increased production of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, which are known to be lowered in several mental health conditions, as well as a higher number of newly generated neurons, which are important for learning and memory formation.”(1)

If we look at the scientific break down on how exercise correlates to the affects on the body then we can better understand how the body works, and not just that someone with a ‘gym body’ is telling us to 'get moving' when it’s the last thing we feel like doing.

Our mind controls so much in our bodies that if we don’t do all the right things, then we end up in such a state that we cannot see sense to get out of it. Our sleep, weight, moods and our immune system can be affected by the knock on effect from our mental state being anything more than relaxed. Sometimes 'mind over matter' is more difficult to implement and often takes support and persistence.

Dopamine is the neurotransmitter responsible for the way in which we feel pleasure, as well as maintaining focus, drive and finding interest in things.

Seratonin is the mood stabiliser. It is the chemical that helps with sleeping, eating and digestion.

Cortisol is the hormone responsible for regulating many processes throughout the body, including metabolism and immune response. Ever get so stressed that you end up catching a cold? Cortisol levels rise when we are under stress and our immune system is weakened, making us susceptible to viruses around the place.

We can naturally boost Dopamine and Seratonin levels in order for our bodies to try and regulate. We do this by exercising regularly, getting adequate and quality sleep, meditating (if that’s your thing), eating a healthy and balanced diet, and getting natural and bright light whenever we can. By doing these things, we can then decrease our stress levels and look to balance out cortisol levels theoretically.

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