Exercise and Mental Health – Lifting Weights to Lift Your Mood
One of the overlooked benefits of exercise is its impact on mental health and wellbeing. Alongside the physical benefits, exercise has been proven to improve mood, stress, sleep and energy levels; as well as reduce the incidence and severity of mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. For a long time, the impact of exercise on mental health was seen as a “chicken or the egg” situation, but evidence is clear that this is a causal relationship.
Exercise causes a number of chemical reactions in the brain, including the release of “happy hormones” like endorphins, dopamine and serotonin. This has a huge impact on how we feel, as these chemicals contribute to regulating mood, sleep and motivation (Basso & Suzuki, 2017). These changes occur extremely quickly and a single bout of exercise (e.g., a short 15-minute run) can lead to an immediate feeling of euphoria. This is known as the “runner’s high,” which can also be applied to general exercise.
On top of its acute benefits, exercise is also extremely effective in the prevention and treatment of mental health conditions, particularly affective disorders like anxiety and depression. In fact, exercise has been shown to be more effective than antidepressants in treating depression without the side effects (Singh et al, 2023).
In an increasingly busy and connected world, exercise also benefits your mental health by giving you time away from checking your phone, emails or other sources of lifestyle stress, which can be quite meditative.
How can we make sure we’re exercising enough?
Some people love the gym and can do a structured workout 5+ days a week; but if you’re not that person, you can still find a way to get at least 3+ exercise sessions in every week. Some strategies that can help you stay committed to training are to pick a type of exercise you like, have a training buddy to keep you accountable and to use exercise to explore (e.g., walking or cycling around a different area).
Still need some guidance?
Our friendly Exercise Physiologists at Exercise Lab can help by providing you with a suitable exercise program for your individual needs. Click here to start your journey today.
By Simon Latham | Exercise Physiologist
Basso JC, Suzuki WA. The Effects of Acute Exercise on Mood, Cognition, Neurophysiology, and Neurochemical Pathways: A Review. Brain Plast. 2017 Mar 28;2(2):127-152. doi: 10.3233/BPL-160040. PMID: 29765853; PMCID: PMC5928534.
Singh B, Olds T, Curtis R, et al. Effectiveness of physical activity interventions for improving depression, anxiety and distress: an overview of systematic reviews. British Journal of Sports Medicine Published Online First: 16 February 2023. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2022-106195