It is a widely accepted fact that exercise produces a lot of physical benefits, but not a lot of people are aware that exercise has mental, emotional and psychological benefits, as well. People don’t seem to realize that the easy breezy feeling they experience after running a mile or so is associated with physical activity. Yes, exercise makes us feel good. So I guess it’s safe to say that being physically active affects our mood.
Michael Otto, PhD, a professor of psychology affiliated with Boston University says, “Exercise is something that psychologists have been very slow to attend to. People know that exercise helps physical outcomes. There is much less awareness of mental health outcomes – and much, much less ability to translate this awareness into exercise action.” There have been studies however that show a strong connection between our mood and regular exercise. Within just 5 minutes of physical activity, one can already experience an enhanced mood. But it doesn’t just end there.
Further studies have shown a link between exercise and depression. Duke University clinical psychologists, James Blumenthal, states that “there’s good epidemiological data to suggest that active people are less depressed than inactive people. And people who were active and stopped tend to be more depressed than those who maintain or initiate an exercise program.” In a study he conducted with his colleagues, he found that subjects (adults with major depressive disorders who live a sedentary lifestyle) who reported being able to exercise regularly within the one year time frame had lower depression scores and are less likely to go under remission.
As for the explanation as to why there was an improvement in mood, researchers believe that exercise increases serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter targeted by antidepressants, as well as the body’s brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which aids in the growth and development of our neurons or brain cells. Researches also think that the change in mood is caused by the regulation of normal sleep patterns, which positively affects the health of our brain. Otto adds that “exercise may be a way of biologically toughening up the brain so stress has less of a central impact.”
Even so, Blumenthal explains that “mental health professionals might think exercise may be a good complement [to other therapies], and that may be true, but there’s very limited data that suggests combining exercise with another treatment is better than the treatment or the exercise alone.” It is nice to finally be aware of the mental benefits of exercise though, because it gives you more reason to be physically active.