We all know that exercise is good for your physical health, but few people realize the mental health benefits. Regular physical activity has a positive effect on depression, ADHD, memory, overall mood and age. Yes, exercise can improve your health, trim your waistline, improve your sex life and add years to your life. What people sometimes forget, is that it makes you feel more energetic throughout the day, sleep better at night, have a sharper memory, and feel more relaxed and positive about yourself.
Many studies show that exercise can treat mild to moderate depression. It is a powerful depression fighter for many reasons. It promotes changes in the brain, including neural growth and reduces inflammation(what some researchers are now saying is the cause of depression). It also releases endorphins, powerful chemicals that energize your spirit and make you feel good.
Exercise is a natural and effective antianxiety treatment. It relieves tension and stress, negative mental energy and enhances feelings of well being as it interrupts the flow of constant worries running through your head.
Stress causes your body to tense it’s muscles, especially in your face, neck, shoulders, leaving you with back or neck pain, or painful headaches. You may feel a tightness in your chest, a pounding pulse or muscle cramps. You many also experience problems such as insomnia, heartburn, stomache (very common in children), diarrhea, or frequent urination. The worry and discomfort of all these physical symptoms can in turn lead to even more stress, creating a vicious cycle between your brain and body. Exercising is an effective way to break this cycle. It helps to relax the muscle and relieve tension. It boosts your immune system and reduces the impact of stress. Since the mind and body are linked, when your body feels better so, too, does your mind. (In the face of all this research, I find it disheartening that the medical profession would rather prescribe drugs, than exercise.)
The most easiest and effective way to to reduce the symptoms of ADHD, improve concentration, motivation, memory and mood is regular exercise. Physical activity immediately boosts the brain’s dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin levels – all of which improve focus and attention. Exercise works in much the same way as Ritalin and Adderall, the two most common medications for ADHD. It is important that children diagnosed with ADHD get at least 30 minutes of exercise every day. It should be part of their educational programming.
Evidence also suggests that exercising helps with PTSD. When you focus on your body and how it feels as you exercise, you can actually help your nervous system become “unstuck” and begin to move out of the immobilizing stress response that characterizes PTSD.
When you are faced with mental or emotional challenges in life, exercise can help you cope in a healthier way, instead of resorting to alcohol, drugs, or other negative behaviours, like emotional eating.