Exercise for a Physically and Mentally Healthier You

Boise Hive - Exercise for a physically and mentally healthier you

It’s a pretty well-known fact that exercise is important for our physical health, however, it is also critical for your mental health. The effects of exercise on the brain are less commonly spoken about than the more obvious physical effects. Remember that the state of the body has significant effects on the mind, and vice versa. Even if the improved physical effects (weight loss, muscle tone increase, stamina increase) aren't our main objectives, they can still be significant motivators, and in turn improve our mental health. These benefits can be achieved with 30 minutes of moderate exercise (even a brisk walk) three times a week.

Let’s discuss briefly what lack of exercise can lead to. Exercise helps prevent stagnation in the body. It helps keep the nutrients in our blood, the air in our lungs, and the food/stool in our bowels moving. It helps keep the toxins, waste products and abnormal cells in our kidneys, liver, and lymph fluid moving so they can be destroyed and/or excreted. All that stuff is designed to constantly be flowing, and exercise helps keep it all moving along as it should. Stagnation of air can result in infections, like pneumonia. Stagnation of blood can result in clots and prevent nutrients from getting to where they need to be. Stagnation of bowel (constipation) can cause toxins to leak back out of the stool and into your blood stream or abdominal cavity, resulting in inflammation and perhaps infections. Stagnation in kidneys, liver, and lymph fluid can decrease these organs effectiveness and cause a backup of toxins, waste products, and abnormal cells. All those things have further ripple effects that can wreak havoc on your body. Whew, when you put it that way, 30 minutes of exercise 3 times a week doesn’t sound so bad, huh?

On to the good, the huge benefits of exercise. Let's do a quick recap on the primary physical effects that exercise has on the body.

  • Better sleep.
  • Improved heart and lung health (resulting in better blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol control)
  • Increased energy and endurance
  • Increased libido
  • Weight loss

Regular exercise decreases our chances of getting diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. All these health problems predispose us to and can worsen other health problems, such as congestive heart failure, heart attack, stroke, and kidney damage, as well as anxiety and depression. If we already have one or more of these conditions, exercise helps us to diminish the severity, or even helps reverse the condition(s) altogether. Exercise can work independently of or in conjunction with medication. And the physical effects of exercise are just the tip of the iceberg, but it is a good place to begin when motivating yourself to start up some healthier habits.

However, even just the physical effects alone- better sleep, improved heart and lung health, increased energy, libido and weight loss- influence our mental and emotional selves. For example, when we sleep better, we feel better mentally as well, less overwhelmed, more capable. When our heart and lungs are stronger, we are better able to handle our daily activities better without getting worn out, helping us not to lose hope or motivation partway through the day, and help us to be and feel more productive. Increased libido makes our intimacy more enjoyable, and our increased energy might also make things easier and more fun in the bedroom. If a person is overweight, losing some weight through exercise diminishes the strain on joints by diminishing the load they carry. As a bonus, becoming more fit will often help us to feel more confident, more attractive, and more capable of meeting our daily commitments. Our physical appearance is also one of the first things other people will notice and comment on, which is further motivation for us to continue our exercise commitments. Mental clarity is also a benefit of exercise.

The common treatments for depression prescribed by psychologists are antidepressants, electrotherapy, and cognitive behavioral (talk) therapy. It has been found in studies that the effects of exercise can be as effective as antidepressant medications in treating mild to moderate depression, and without the side effects. All the better! This is not to say that anyone should stop taking their antidepressants on a whim. Be sure to discuss any changes with your doctor, as antidepressants often need to be decreased gradually. After moderate exercise, it takes about five minutes for a mood enhancement effect to begin, and these results can last longer and be more regular with increased physical activity consistency. It is certainly possible that with regular exercise, a person’s control of their depression would be sufficient that they could safely wean off their depression medications. But at the very least, the addition of exercise to your arsenal to defend yourself against depression and anxiety can be a great addition to your toolbox, working in tandem with your other tools, like medication, talk therapy, and music therapy.

 Exercise increases blood circulation throughout your body, thereby promoting the transfer of oxygen, glucose (sugar), and nutrients to your organs, so that they can perform their functions more efficiently and effectively. Physical activity also has a great impact on our hypothalamic – pituitary – adrenal axis, which are sections of our brain that control our psychological reaction to stress, which in the case of anxiety, is fear. Subjects in a two-week exercise program showed a significant decrease in anxiety sensitivity compared to subjects in the control group. Exercise produces many of the same symptoms as the fight or flight response: sweating, increased heart rate, faster breathing, and often adrenaline. When we are exposed to these reactions in a milder setting regularly (such as when exercising), we can decrease our bodies inclination to panic when we feel these kinds of reactions in a non-exercise- but still normal- setting (that would generally cause us anxiety). So next time you get a heated email from a client or boss, and your heart rate increases, your body might know how to better handle this reaction as a normal thing to be allowed to be felt, and then let it go rather than something to panic at and cause anxiety.

Exercise has a major impact on our physical, mental, and emotional health. It improves heart and lung health, muscle health, sleep, and energy levels. It improves symptoms of depression and resistance to anxiety. So, there you have it, who would have thought that exercise can make such a drastic difference in mental health? Time to make that commitment and start on our healing journey! See you there!







Courtney Franklin, RN

Courtney has been a Registered nurse with a Bachelor's degree since 2016. She has spent most of her time in nursing in the realm of Rheumatology. She believes strongly in the power of individuals and groups to be forces for good in the lives of others, and endeavors to assist in good causes of all kinds in whatever ways she can, particularly as a freelance writer. She enjoys her sweet husband, her three dogs, and her fantasy books, which she never grew out of and probably never will.

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