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The brain changing effects of exercise
Do you need another reason to motivate yourself to exercise more regularly?
Something great happens when you start going to the gym or get back into a sport... Any kind of physical exercise will naturally lift your mood, ease stress and anxiety, and even increase long term memory retention and decision making ability.
When you exercise, your brain releases endorphins. These endorphins activate the opioid receptors in your brain, the same ones that are activated by medical pain killers. The upside is you can't get addicted to exercise as you can with pain killers. Although being addicted to a jog every day isn't the worst thing in the world.
You may have heard of "runners high", where after exercise, you feel on top of the world. This is because of those activated opioid receptors, creating a more positive feeling in the body and numbing the pain response.
Exercise has been shown by research to reduce anxiety & depression, along with improving sleep, self esteem and stress levels. Of course, this will help anyone who feels overwhelmed or like their mental health is going downhill due to stress.
"But I'm too busy to exercise!"
It's easy to get stuck into a rut when you're already feeling low, but the hardest step is convincing yourself you have time or that it's worth it. Think of it like getting out of bed on a cold dark morning when you're feeling a bit run down. You don't want to do it, but you know you have to. Although your grades or your job may be at stake if you don't get out of bed, if you don't exercise, your physical and mental health is at stake.
You don't have to become a triathlete to get these benefits.
All you need in general is a 30-minute workout 4-5 times a week to get the most benefits from exercise, but if you're just starting out, any amount of exercise will help over none at all.
We know, for example, that individuals who don't exercise are at a higher risk for depression, but this doesn't mean that exercise is a complete cure for depression or mental health issues. However, it helps immensely, and if you already have the strong habit built up of exercising a few times a week, you're much less likely to succumb to mental illness.
Remember, physical activity doesn't necessarily have to be done at the gym. It can be going for a hike, dancing, or even walking up and down the stairs!
We personally recommend a walk or jog in a wooded area to clear your head and feel better immediately.
In fact, an interesting piece of Japanese research found physiological and psychological benefits of a brief walk in the forest environment, including a significant increase in “comfortable,” “relaxed,” and “natural” feelings. Researchers also measured big improvements in “tension-anxiety”, “depression”, “anger-hostility”, “fatigue” and “confusion”.
Anderson, D. (2014). Finding Exercise Motivation When You're Depressed: How to Get Moving When You're Low on Energy. SparkPeople. Date accessed: October 20, 2017. Retrieved from: http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/f...
Da Silva, M. A., Singh-Manoux, A., Brunner, E. J., Kaffashian, S., Shipley, M. J., Kivimäki, M., & Nabi, H. (2012). Bidirectional association between physical activity and symptoms of anxiety and depression: the Whitehall II study. European journal of epidemiology, 27(7), 537-546.
Hillman, C. (2008). Be smart, exercise your heart: exercise effects on brain and cognition. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 9(1), 58-65. doi: 10.1038/nrn2298
Raglin, J. (1991). Exercise and mental health: beneficial and detrimental effects. Current therapeutics, 32(2), 33-40.
Song, C., Ikei, H., & Kobayashi, M. (2015). Effect of Forest Walking on Autonomic Nervous System Activity in Middle-Aged Hypertensive Individuals: A Pilot Study. International Journal Of Environmental Research And Public Health, 12(3), 2687-2699. doi: 10.3390/ijerph120302687
Thome, J., & Espelage, D. L. (2004). Relations among exercise, coping, disordered eating, and psychological health among college students. Eating behaviors, 5(4), 337-351.
Veale, D. M. W. (1987). Exercise and mental health. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 76(2), 113-120. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0447.1987.tb02872.x
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