Both mental and physical health are discussed openly in our day to day lives. As we become more accepting of the mental health issues that each individual struggles with, we begin to look for alternative avenues for improving one’s mental health.
This month, we want to talk about the effects exercise has on the brain; how it changes structures in the brain, how it affects specific mental disorders and the overall changes to mental health.
To start, what exactly is the effect of exercise on our brains?
Research shows that exercise can have changes to the way our brain waves fire, the information it takes in and how it uses energy. For example, cardiovascular exercise has shown to cause a shift in the amplitude and frequency of our brain waves. This can result in improved alertness and being more receptive to incoming information. We focus better, think faster and have a brain that as a whole works better.
During exercise, our brains absorb glucose and carbohydrates. It then later uses these sources of energy to increase it’s storage of neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are located in the brain and result in changes to mood, energy, focus, and attention. Essentially, neurotransmitters are needed by the brain to operate at it’s best ability. Depression is linked to a decrease in serotonin levels. Therefore, this may be why exercise has been linked to improvements in depression, as there is an increase in the serotonin neurotransmitters that are found to be at low levels in the brain.
What effect do these changes from exercise have on the brain?
In a study on depression, exercise has shown to produce new neural growth in the brain, a decrease in inflammation and an overall increase in feelings of calmness.
When looking at anxiety, studies have shown that it provides our bodies with a decrease in overall muscle tension and feelings of stress, an increase in both physical and mental energy and lastly an increase in endorphins, also known as the hormones that produce a “runner’s high”.
Lastly, when looking at ADHD, exercise has shown to increase levels of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, all of which result in an increase in overall focus and attention.
How much do I need to exercise to ream these mental health benefits?
Reaming the benefits of exercise on your mental health can come from simply increasing your heart rate every day for up to 30 minutes. A walk, run, bike or even swim can be a great way to increase your heart rate and subsequently improve your mental health.