The answer is, yes! There is a TON of scientific evidence that exercise has a positive effect on your mental health. Exercise (both short bursts and longer periods of activity) have consistently been shown to improve cognitive function (i.e. memory), mood, and quality of life.
When we engage in exercise, our bodies produce certain chemicals linked to pleasure. These chemicals, (1) opioids (the NATURAL kind our body makes) and (2) endocannabinoids, contribute to positive effects like reduced anxiety, better sleep, and improved mood. FUN FACT: When people say they experience a “runner’s high”, they are usually feeling this high because of these natural chemicals that are produced!
Researchers also explain that CONSISTENT physical activity positively affects the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis (fancy term for system that regulates our stress), leading to lower stress hormone secretion.
To summarize – Consistent exercise releases chemicals that reduce anxiety and stress. Exercise is a GREAT tool in your tool kit to improve your mental health, but exercise alone may not be enough to treat an anxiety disorder or a major depressive disorder. Sometimes you need to add additional tools (which we will continue to discuss every week!)
Honestly, I wouldn’t get worried about WHAT exercise you’re doing. Exercise is exercise. It can be running, swimming, walking, yoga, dance, pickle ball, soccer, pilates, even gardening. When I was depressed, I found it much harder to motivate myself to exercise. If this is you, I see you. It’s not always going to be this hard. And sometimes having someone who can help motivate you to get moving can be super helpful.