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Mark's Blog: Sweat your way to happiness


The science of how exercise boosts your mood and mental health.


Exercise is not just about keeping our bodies in shape; it has a profound effect on our mental health as well. It is well known that regular exercise can help reduce stress, anxiety and depression. But have you ever noticed that after a good workout, you actually feel more alive and youthful? That’s because exercise triggers a series of chemical reactions in our body that not only make us physically fit but also contribute to our overall well-being.


Last week I found myself feeling good for a good five days after a few hours of cycling and a strength session; the lift in my mood went from feeling good to a heightened sense of feeling youthful both physically and mentally. In other words, I felt really alive and full on experienced the effects of physical activity.


When we exercise, our body releases a cocktail of hormones, neurotransmitters and endorphins. Endorphins, which are often referred to as “feel-good” chemicals, are produced by the central nervous system and the pituitary gland in response to physical stress. They are responsible for the “runner’s high” that many people experience after a strenuous workout. Endorphins not only relieve pain but also induce feelings of pleasure and euphoria, which can help alleviate stress and anxiety.


In addition to endorphins, exercise also causes the release of other neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine. Serotonin is a chemical messenger that is involved in regulating mood, appetite and sleep. It is often called the “happiness hormone” because it helps promote feelings of well-being and contentment. Dopamine, on the other hand, is a neurotransmitter that is associated with pleasure and reward. It is responsible for the feelings of satisfaction and motivation that we experience after achieving a goal.


Moreover, the hormonal changes that happen within the body during exercise are also important. Cardiovascular exercise, such as running, boxing or cycling, stimulates the production of growth hormone, which is essential for building and maintaining muscle mass. It also helps to reduce levels of cortisol, a hormone that is released in response to stress and can cause muscle breakdown and weight gain.


Strength training, on the other hand, triggers the production of testosterone, a hormone that is essential for building muscle mass, improving bone density and increasing energy levels. It also helps to reduce insulin levels, a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels, and can contribute to the development of diabetes.


Recent studies have shown that exercise can have a profound effect on our mental health. In a study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, researchers found that exercise was just as effective as medication in treating depression. Another study published in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology found that regular exercise can help reduce anxiety and improve self-esteem.


In conclusion, exercise is not just good for our physical health, but it is also essential for our mental well-being. The chemical reactions that happen within our body during and after exercise, such as the release of endorphins, neurotransmitters and hormones, can help alleviate stress, anxiety and depression. Regular exercise is an effective way to boost mood, improve self-esteem and promote overall well-being.


 

References


Ströhle, A. (2009). Physical activity, exercise, depression and anxiety disorders. Journal of Neural Transmission, 116(6), 777-784. doi:10.1007/s00702-008-0092-x


Schuch, F. B., Vancampfort, D., Firth, J., Rosenbaum, S., Ward, P. B., Silva, E. S., … Stubbs, B. (2018). Physical activity and incident depression: A meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. American Journal of Psychiatry, 175(7), 631-648. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2018.17111194


Craft, L. L., & Perna, F. M. (2004). The benefits of exercise for the clinically depressed. Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 6(3), 104-111. doi

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