Our mental health determines how we feel, think and act. It determines how we relate to others, create behaviors, and make choices. It is a core component of our well being and determines how we handle stress. Just as fitness can help keep our physical well being in good health, it can also help us achieve and sustain good mental health. Exercise has been known as a natural anti-depressant, and recently has become an interrogated factor in recovery. Although all exercise is good for your well being, a surprising factor is that different types of exercise can help with different mental health issues.
With mental health issues being so widespread it is important to raise awareness and support to those suffering around you. Each of us goes through stress full times in our life, struggling to keep the balance of our well being. Exercise can not only help clear your mind; but balance your brain. It is quite underestimated how beneficial exercise is for your mental health. Whether you are suffering from low grade depression, heightened anxiety, or facing additional stressors in life; acknowledging your mental health through movement can be a healing process for a range of conditions.
Aerobic exercise increases your heart rate and oxygen rich blood flow throughout your brain. The result? An elevation in mood and feelings of pleasure. The feeling of pleasure received from aerobic exercise is due to a natural reward system (hedonic hotspots) that become activated during exercise; generating a sensation of euphoria. These pleasure centers of the brain are also activated during laughter, romantic love, and addiction.
We have all herd the term “runners high”, which is an elevated state of euphoria after a long period of aerobic exercise. The pleasure and euphoria felt form aerobic exercise is also due to the neurotransmission of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter naturally produced by our brains and responsible for feelings of pleasure, focus, motivation, and reasoning.
Depression, anxiety, addiction and ADHD leave our neurotransmission of dopamine low, creating a space for feelings of sadness, lethargy, and inability to focus. Depression is a comorbid mental health issue and is often experienced with anxiety. Depression is the most common mental health issue faced by nearly 3000 million people. The hardest and most important skill in battling depression is to get moving. Staying ahead of your depression can help keep feelings of depression from getting worse. It can also help stop the onset on depressive episodes.
Aerobic exercise not only increases levels or dopamine in the brain but can also have a significant effect on levels of serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is responsible for feeling of happiness as well as cognition, memory and learning. Aerobic exercise is the best natural treatment for depression as it can reactivate our feel-good pathways, generating feelings of happiness, and increase mood regulation.
Aerobic exercise: Running, jogging, power walking, jump rope, bike riding, swimming
Strength & Resistance Training
The Central Nervous System (CNS) is part of the nervous system consisting of the brain and the spinal cord. It is responsible for the transmission of movement; it is also is responsible for our stress response known as “fight or flight”. Stress can take a major tole on our Central Nervous System; this is where we see our mental health effect our physical well being. Over stimulation to our CNS increases our adrenal and nonadrenal levels leading to extreme feelings of anxiety, hypertensions, racing thoughts, lack of coordination, and panic attacks. Overstimulation of the central nervous system can also lead to neurological conditions and diseases.
Strength training is a great way to regulate and decrease levels of stress while healthy engaging your central nervous system. GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid) are a class of receptors that inhibit the central nervous system. GABA receptors are responsible for creating a sedative effect and enhancing muscle relaxation. Psychopharmaceutical drugs such as analytics and antidepressants target these receptors to offer relief for your CNS; but as dose strength training.
Strength training and resistance training target your CNS, more so than aerobic exercise. As strength training and resistance training activates GABA receptors in the brain, we are left with less tension in the body and in the mind. As strength and resistance training can reshape your body, it can also help reshape neurological pathways. Regular training can reshape your natural response to stressors and change your reaction formation (fight or flight response). Strength and resistance training ultimately decrease anxiety, feelings of worry and hypertension. A less anxious body is less anxious mind. As we physically exert our bodies with weight training, we release tension and increase endorphins. Strength training is a natural remedy for stress and can help ease a multitude of mental health issues.
Strength training; Weight lifting, rowing, power lifting, and all resistance exercise
High Intensity Training (HIT)
High intensity training can be defined as; exercise done with intensity in short spurts followed by rest. As other exercises do offer feel good brain chemicals, HIT exercise particularly offers a larger release of endorphins and opioid peptides in the brain. Opioid peptides are peptides that are naturally produced by the body itself and play an important role in emotional regulation. These receptors in the brain are involved in motivation, emotion, stress, pain, and attachment.
Emotional regulation is an extremely important component in good mental health. Flooding of emotions can be a result of different mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and can be presented when experiencing grief. Release of endorphins during exercise is a major factor in sticking to regular exercise as the release of endorphins and opioid peptides increase our motivational pathway. Therefore, not only can high intensity interval training help elevate negative emotions and increase emotional regulation, but it can also increase the likelihood of sticking to exercise all together; creating a healthier more manageable lifestyle.
High intensity exercise: Any exercise performed in intervals from 30 seconds to 10 minutes at 80-90% of your max heart rate.
Typical treatment for mental illness ranges from psychotherapy to psychiatric medications. As both especially in combination can be a highly successful treatment, the general development of good coping skills allows us to sustain our mental health. If your mental health is in a good standing, you can still add exercise to your daily routine to help with maintenance. Maintaining your mental health thought exercise will help you feel your best self, create positive energy, and aid to build strong resilience; especially in the adversity of stress.