Does physical exercise actually have any psychological benefits?
We are constantly told that exercise is the solution to battle many psychological symptoms, but is that actually true?
The answer is a not surprising, YES! There is a whole range of psychological benefits linked to physical exercise as little as a 10 minute walk. Long term benefits are linked to 30 minute sessions, 3 times a week at moderate intensity. Regular physical exercise for periods of longer than 10 weeks work best for reducing symptoms of depression.
Benefits shown to be linked to exercise are:
- Improved mood
- Reduced stress as well as an improved ability to cope with stress
- Improved self-esteem
- Pride in physical accomplishments
- Increased satisfaction with oneself
- Improved body image
- Increased feelings of energy
- Improved in confidence in your physical abilities
- Decreased symptoms associated with depression
Researchers have also explored exercise as a tool for treating — and perhaps preventing — anxiety. This is because regular workouts might help people prone to anxiety become less likely to panic when they experience those fight-or-flight sensations. After all, the body produces many of the same physical reactions — heavy breathing, sweating, increased heart rate — in response to exercise as it does to stress or fear. (https://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/12/exercise)
Some researchers think that physical activity helps the brain set up protective barriers that help to alleviate symptoms of chronic depression. The suspect that exercise does this by increasing growth of neurons and connections in the brain, or by increasing the production of serotonin. Serotonin is one of the hormones in the brain that is responsible for elevating a person’s mood and is often the focus of antidepressant medication. Another theory suggests exercise helps by regulating sleep, which is known to have protective effects on the brain by allowing it to recover and refresh. (https://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/12/exercise)
A researcher named James Blumenthal and his colleagues explored the relationship between mood and exercise through a series of experiments. In one such study, he and his colleagues assigned sedentary adults with major depressive disorder to one of four groups: supervised exercise, home-based exercise, antidepressant therapy or a placebo pill. A placebo is a sugar pill that is often used in scientific experiments as a comparison as it does have any effects. After four months of treatment, they found that participants in the exercise and antidepressant groups had lower depression symptoms than those on the placebo. He concluded that exercise was generally comparable to antidepressants for people with major depressive disorder (Psychosomatic Medicine, 2007).
Research conducted on mice and humans indicate that physical exercise overall improves brain function and performance. Cardiovascular exercise helps create new brain cells in a process called neurogenesis, allowing the brain to generally function better and for our performance on a range of psychological tasks. In particular, physical exercise prevents cognitive decline and memory loss by strengthening the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain responsible for memory and learning. Studies have also proven that physical activity helps to boost creativity and mental energy. (https://www.waldenu.edu/online-bachelors-programs/bs-in-psychology/resource/five-mental-benefits-of-exercise)
If you need assistance in personal training, weight management, injury rehab, or high-performance/sports science please call Mindwise to book with one of our Exercise Physiologists, Physiotherapists, or Remedial Massage Therapists. Call us on (02) 8733 3169 or 0477 118 184 to discuss your service needs.