Just Get Out the Door: Connecting Exercise and Mood

When you think exercise, what comes to mind? Physical fitness? Hard work? Silly shorts? Exercise can be all of these things and more. But what if we told you that exercise might also mean a healthier mind?

According to a number of scientific studies, your New Year’s Resolution might be worth sticking to. Exercise doesn’t just mean sweat—according to these studies, it has been linked to an improvement of symptoms of depression and anxiety. It doesn’t matter if you’re going for a run or just doing some yoga: both aerobic and anaerobic exercise seem to help address symptoms.

Theories abound on why exercise and mental health are linked, from the psychological to the neurochemical. Several beneficial psychological and sociological elements fit under the physical fitness umbrella, such as distracting oneself from negative stimuli—leaving work- or relationship-related stress behind, for example—and the feeling of accomplishment and efficacy that comes from reaching your fitness goals. Likewise, often times there is a social structure of support and camaraderie that comes from exercise: if you have a workout group or buddy, you’re more likely to receive support that you might not otherwise get.

These boosts to self-esteem that come from the psychological benefits of exercise often address a great range of symptoms of depression and anxiety. However, there seem to be physiological benefits, too: according to some hypotheses, exercise can affect the release of helpful neurochemicals. For example, according to one study, exercise can “increase the synaptic transmission of monomines.” While this may sound like a chapter in a psychology textbook, that information is exciting news: it turns out, that is the same function found in a range of antidepressant medications. In a similar vein, exercise has been observed to release endorphins, and while the connection between endorphins and exercise requires more study, there is a promising body of evidence to suggest that working out can give you the neurochemical dump you need to counteract some symptoms of depression and anxiety.

It is important to note that there are studies indicating that exercising may not be a catch-all solution to your mental health symptoms. Experimentally speaking, many gaps remain in the data that has been thus far collected—as with many other psychological and medical issues, modern technology has opened a huge range of options for exploration on these subjects.

On the other hand, however, exercise affects many different parts of your life. Several elements of physical activity seem to have complimentary effects, including distracting yourself from fixating on issues, and feeling better about your physical well-being. So, next time you’re feeling stuck, getting depressed, or feeling anxious, maybe it’s time to take a walk or do some push-ups. After all, mental health concerns your whole body, not just your mind.

If you have any questions, please feel free to call South Denver Psychotherapy at 303-730-1144, or visit our website for more information on how we can help you rediscover your authentic self.