Exercise: Medicine for the Mind

Exercise: a word that most people relate to an activity that benefits someone’s physical health, but what most don’t realize is that exercising can improve someone’s mental health just as much as their physical health.

Mental Health America, stated that in 2015, 44 million Americans were affected by a mental health condition. Many remedies are used to aid a healthy mental life, but there is one medicine I think many people overlook.

According to sources like online fitness blog Cathe and Psychology Today, during and after exercise, the body releases many chemicals known to make a person feel good. These chemicals include—but are not limited to—endorphins, dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. Let’s take a closer look into each hormone and what they do for a person’s brain and body.

 

Endorphins:

Endorphins are neurotransmitters that are released in response to pain. These chemicals are related most to the term “runner’s high” or the sensation people get after running long distances. According to Dr. J. Kip Matthews, it takes about an hour of exercise for endorphins to be released from the body. In more recent studies, it was found that exercising for 15 minutes a couple of times a week can steadily increase endorphins as well.

Dopamine:

Like endorphins, dopamine is a neurotransmitter. Dopamine is known to improve motivation and regulate a person’s mood. Low levels of dopamine are linked to depression, so keeping your dopamine levels up is very important. This hormone is produced through intense, long-term exercise, such as cardio. Some fun cardio exercises to try are jumping rope or kickboxing.

Serotonin:

Serotonin is known to protect against mental health disorders and has similar characteristics to dopamine. It is similar to dopamine because it regulates someone’s mood, is released through vigorous exercise and low levels are linked to depression. In addition to cardio, another long-term exercise that could be beneficial is aerobic exercise, such as dancing or cycling.

Norepinephrine:

Norepinephrine is both a hormone and a chemical in the brain. This hormone is known to enhance productivity, attention skills and your ability to concentrate. This chemical is released through high-intensity workouts like HIIT (high-intensity interval training). After exercising, when norepinephrine is released, a person is likely to feel more motivated and energetic about achieving their goals or getting tasks done. After a workout like HIIT encourages norepinephrine production, finishing other activities you had planned to do will likely leave you feeling even more accomplished and happy.

All of these hormones work together in a person’s brain on a daily basis, and especially during and after exercise to improve your mental well-being. So next time you feel like you need a mental pick-me-up, turn to exercise to get right back on track.