How are exercise and mental health connected?

There are many known benefits to regular physical activity. These range from decreasing the risk of colon cancer, obesity, Alzheimer’s disease, and many mental health disorders (among others). So how does exercise benefit your mental health?

A plethora of research shows the benefits of exercise concerning mental health, memory, cognition, and learning. During exercise, blood flow to the brain will increase, increasing both oxygenation and nutrient supply. In addition to this, both proteins and endorphins are released, among many other neurotransmitters. These proteins and chemicals work to decrease stress and pain and improve mood while simultaneously filtering out other chemicals that increase stress and anxiety. Among the improvements in mood and decreases in anxiety, regular physical activity improves short/long term memory, improve sleep, and decrease the risk for depression. Another important and interesting fact about exercise and mental health has to do with neurogenesis. Neurons in our brains help control our memory, and regular physical activity can help promote the production of neurons, potentially helping decrease the risk of dementia.

Find the best way to exercise for YOU!

Armed with this knowledge, finding an activity you enjoy doing is important. Activities can range from cycling, running, swimming, walking, lifting weights, and many other options. Any exercise you can perform to increase your heart and breathing rate to promote the benefits of the physical activity described above. Note that it is beneficial to focus not only on strength exercise OR aerobic exercise but also on a healthy combination of maximum benefits and decreased risk of injury. However, any exercise you find you enjoy or have time to do is much better than no exercise at all! Regardless of where you like to exercise, enjoy both the physical and mental benefits of regular exercise!

As always, if you have any further inquiries regarding the types of exercise that are most beneficial for you individually or things you should avoid, feel free to ask your physical therapist!

Rachel graduated with honors from Concordia University Wisconsin in 2014 with a Bachelor of Science in Exercise Physiology and in 2017 with her Doctorate in Physical Therapy. At Concordia, Rachel had the opportunity to take advanced coursework in manual therapy and sport specific training.