How Exercise Combats Stress and Improves Mental Health

Written by
8fit Team @ 8fit
Written by
8fit Team @ 8fit
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Exercise is excellent for improving many different aspects of our physical wellbeing and is especially beneficial for our mental and emotional health. Both mental and emotional health can be improved through exercise, just as with physical fitness and ability.

Exercise and mental health go hand in hand, and of recent, science has a lot to contribute to this topic. Let's take a look at the mental health benefits of exercise and see why we feel like a million bucks after a spin class or get that post-working out "high" after a morning run – as well as the long term health benefits.

Exercise for mental health

Today depression and anxiety are at an all-time high in many countries around the world. Although there are a variety of reasons why there’s some speculation that this phenomenon could have something to do with people modern living and convenience culture leading to more sedentary lifestyles.  

Whatever the cause, the fact that mental health issues continue to rise is an alarming trend. Psychological and physical health are tightly intertwined, making a drop in someone's mental health a vicious circle, as their physical health may sometimes fall by the wayside due to general lethargy or the side effects of medication e.g. weight gain or listelessness. This drop in physical activity can then, in turn, cause a wide range of other issues and ailments.

This catch-22 situation isn’t always the case for people on medications like antidepressants and varies from person to person. In no way are we suggesting that forgoing medicine is a good idea. Quite the opposite – what if exercise could be a way to combat the unpleasant side effects of antidepressant medications? And what if exercise alone is enough for some people? It’s time to have a look at the mental health benefits of exercise.  

Mental health benefits of exercise

Effective for major depressive disorder  

After reviewing several randomized trials testing the efficacy of exercise on chronic depression, a team of researchers found that participants who trained for three or more sessions each lasting 45 to 60 minutes a saw a notable improvement in their symptoms.

On average, the participants began noticing a difference after around four weeks of regular exercise. Still, the researchers suggest working out regularly for at least 10-12 weeks to start seeing more quantifiable results.

Anxiety relief

You’ve probably heard of runner’s high, that energized feeling and sense of euphoria you get after an intense workout. That’s due to your body releasing hormones -- enkephalins and endorphins -- that can improve your mood and relieve stress. Although these feel-good hormones are integral for creating this sensation, the fact is, exercise also a great way to refocus and feel rooted in the present moment.

Think about it – when you concentrate on an intense workout, what do you think about most of the time? Probably about how you're out of breath, how your feet are running in sync with the beat of the music you're listening to, or maybe how much your arms are burning while lifting weights.. Focusing on your body rather than ruminating about worries can help you realize you're more than your thoughts.

May help ease the symptoms of ADHD

Remember how we mentioned that your body releases feel-good hormones when you’re working out? Well, it also boosts the level of neurotransmitters in your brain, like serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, which can influence symptoms of ADHD. Dopamine, in particular, is essential for concentration and clarity, so increasing the amount in your body can help lessen the symptoms.

May help with confidence and self-esteem

Low self-esteem and confidence levels are common among people suffering from mental illnesses or distress. Exercise shines in this realm once again. Just think about how great you feel when you complete a workout, especially when you weren’t in the mood to work out in the first place. Small accomplishments like these can add up and make you feel fantastic.

By creating a workout plan that you can stick to – and setting goals that you can achieve – you’ll start feeling a sense of achievement that will continue to grow as you keep moving forward with your training.

In one study published in the journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise, researchers found that feelings of wellbeing and heightened self-confidence improve after just 30 minutes of exercise. In this particular study, the effects analyzed lasted around 20 minutes following the exercise session, but as we discussed earlier in the case of depression, exercise seems to have an impact that's more far-reaching when it's completed regularly over several weeks.  

Exercise for mental health: How 8fit can help

If you happen to be managing any mental conditions, working out, alongside treatments like therapy, proper nutrition and/or psychopharmaceutical treatment, may help alleviate distressing or debilitating symptoms. And, if you've just started to work out, the 8fit app can be a super way to structure your workouts, with clear instructions, so you know exactly how to proceed. You can schedule your workouts to fit your day-to-day life and practice HIIT workouts anytime, anywhere.

As always, if you’re feeling unwell or think you may be dealing with a mental illness, we advise you to consult with your primary care physcian right away – self-diagnosing can have hazardous consequences. Exercise may help you on its own, but in some cases, it’s not enough, and that’s why it’s in your best interest to speak to a medical professional.   Stay safe, 8fitters!  Exercise and mental health are more closely related than you might think – try to make mental health a priority and reap the benefits for a lifetime.

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