Influence of Exercise on Mental Health

Written by: Pansiluni Hasanjana Weerawansa

In today’s society, prioritising mental well-being has become immensely vital. With the relentless demands of daily life, it’s common to overlook our mental well-being. Yet, it is proven that exercise boosts an individual sense of well-being.  Let’s delve into the intriguing connection between mental health and exercise, examining the profound influence that movement can wield on our cognitive and emotional wellness. 

Feel-Good Factor  

At the core of the mental health and exercise connection lies a fascinating interplay of neurochemicals within the brain. Exercising releases endorphins, a feel-good neurotransmitter. It serves as a natural painkiller and mood enhancer, creating a euphoric sensation known as the “runner’s high”. Exercise also releases another neurotransmitter known as serotonin which also enhances our mood, increasing our happiness levels. This serotonin boost can combat feelings of anxiety and depression, offering a natural and sustainable approach to mental well-being. Similarly, exercise releases dopamine, which plays an important role in how we pursue pleasure, satisfaction and motivation. The release of these neurotransmitters also helps keep stress at bay and mitigate tension. 

Health Benefits 

Exercising is packed with numerous health benefits including an increase in the supply of oxygen to the brain. Cardiovascular exercise increases the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the brain, promoting the growth of new blood vessels and improving overall brain health. This enhanced blood flow is particularly beneficial for the hippocampus, a region crucial for memory and learning. Engaging in exercise increases the blood flow to the brain which in return reduces the risk of conditions related to cognitive decline, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Stress has become an ubiquitous force in modern society, wreaking havoc on mental health and often draining our energy levels. Exercise emerges as a formidable ally in the battle against stress by regulating cortisol, the body’s primary stress hormone. Regular physical activity helps modulate cortisol levels, preventing chronic elevation that can contribute to anxiety, depression, and cognitive decline. 

A 2015 study in a sample of highly trained and sedentary young men found that those who completed 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise were much more resilient to an acute stressor than those who did not exercise (Healthline).  

Aerobic exercises, such as running, swimming, or cycling, have been particularly effective in reducing cortisol levels. These activities not only provide an outlet for pent-up tension but also promote a sense of accomplishment and empowerment. By engaging in regular aerobic exercise, individuals can cultivate a resilient stress response system, mitigating the impact of life’s inevitable challenges. 

Exercise not only has physiological benefits but also serves as a powerful tool for fostering social connections. Social isolation is a significant risk factor for mental health issues. The connections gained through group activities can be influential in combating loneliness and promoting a sense of belonging. 

Group exercises, such as team sports, fitness classes, or running clubs, provide individuals with opportunities to connect with like-minded individuals, share experiences, and build supportive relationships. The sense of community that arises from these interactions contributes to a positive feedback loop, enhancing both mental and emotional well-being. 

Moreover, individuals have unique preferences, physical conditions, and lifestyles that influence the type and intensity of exercise that suits them best. Tailoring a fitness routine to individual needs ensures comfort whilst suiting one’ lifestyle. It also aids in making exercise feel interesting and engaging rather than making it feel like a chore. 

In conclusion, as we traverse the challenges of the modern world, mixing exercise into our regular, monotonous routines emerges as a transformative practice. From the surge of neurochemicals that enhance mood to the physical benefits that fortify the brain, exercise stands as a holistic solution to nurture our mental well-being. By embracing the multifaceted aspects of exercising, we can not only cope with the demands of today but also cultivate a healthy relationship with ourselves as well as those around us.