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6 Ways Exercise Helps with Mental Health Conditions

November 14, 2016 | Jeri Inmon, PT

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family riding bicyclesWe all know that exercise is good for our physical health. But research continues to prove that it’s also good for our mental health. And that’s true in all stages of life—from childhood through old age. The thing is, we are usually the least likely to work out when we’re feeling stressed, tired or depressed when, in reality, a brisk walk around the block is the very thing that would make us feel better. Here’s why.

1. Exercise reduces stress.

All wound up after a bad day at work? It’s not just an old wives’ tale that working up a sweat will make you feel better; it’s scientifically proven. Exercising increases norepinephrine, a chemical that moderates the brain’s response to stressful situations.

2. Exercise improves mood.

Whether you’re just having a lousy day or suffer from clinical depression, getting moving can make you feel better both in the short- and long-term. Duke University researchers found that 30 minutes of brisk exercise three times a week is just as effective as drug therapy in relieving the symptoms of major depression in the short term. They also found that continued exercise greatly reduces the chances of the depression returning.

3. Exercise improves sleep.

A National Sleep Foundation poll found that more than three-fourths of exercisers say their sleep quality was very good or fairly good in the past two weeks, compared with slightly more than half of non-exercisers. While any amount of exercise—even a 10-minute walk—can help, vigorous exercisers reported the best results. More than two-thirds of vigorous exercisers said that, during a two-week period, they rarely or never had symptoms commonly associated with insomnia. In contrast, half of non-exercisers said they woke up during the night and nearly a quarter had difficulty falling asleep every night or almost every night.

4. Exercise improves self-esteem, especially in children.

It may take awhile to lose weight—if that’s your goal—but working out can immediately make you feel better about yourself. A study from the Medical College of Georgia included 207 overweight, typically sedentary children ages 7 to 11 randomly assigned to either continue their sedentary lifestyle or exercise for 20 or 40 minutes every day after school for an average of 13 weeks. Although they did not lose significant weight, children in the 40-minute group reported the highest boosts to their self-esteem.

5. Exercise improves memory and thinking skills.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia found that weight-training exercise appears to boost the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning. Even if one is already beginning to see signs of cognitive impairment, the brain is still capable of rebounding. Weight training, even as little as once or twice a week, can minimize the rate of cognitive decline and change the disease course. Other studies have shown that aerobic activity—such as brisk walking—also can affect the brain positively.

6. Exercise improves Attention Deficit Disorder symptoms.

It turns out that getting outside to play is one of the best prescriptions for children. A study in the Journal of Attention Disorders found that just 26 minutes of daily physical activity for eight weeks significantly allayed ADHD symptoms in grade-school kids.

Interested in learning more? Join us at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 28 for “The Impact of Exercise On Mental Health,” a free talk by physical therapist Jeri Inmon. All attendees will be entered into a drawing to win a free fitness tracker. The event will be held in Fisher-Titus Jennings Auditorium (Parking Lot B, 272 Benedict Ave., Norwalk.) Call 419-668-8101 for more information. No registration is required.

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