By Matt Evans
We know that exercise is great for our physical health, and most of you probably know about exercise's effect as an excellent stress-reliever: there are whole reams of anecdotal evidence available, full of people telling us running, hiking, weightlifting or other sports are good for the soul.
However, thanks to modern science, we can prove exercise is good for the... well, not the soul, exactly, but the brain. From a biological standpoint, regular exercise helps keep our brains in working order, fighting mental health problems and having a therapeutic affect.
In one literature review, published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, these therapeutic benefits of exercise were thought to be caused by "exercise-induced increase in blood circulation to the brain.". It's thought this increased circulation stimulates the brain; specifically, the part of the brain which controls reactions to stress.
This section of brain, known as the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis, is also said to regulate processes such as digestion, our sex drives, the immune system, mood and emotions. Exercise literally kills stress by stimulating the part of your brain which controls your reaction to stressful situations.
If that wasn't enough, exercise has also been found to release mood-boosting chemicals in your brain called serotonin, noroadrenaline and dopamine. These are responsible for the fabled "runner's high" some athletes report getting deep into their exercise session.
Of course, our brains affect our body, too, which is one reason why people say gut health directly correspond to mental health. By affecting the brain, exercise also has a positive effect on the rest of the body, unrelated to weight loss or building muscle. According to the Clinical Psychiatry Study, these positive effects include:
- Health benefits from regular exercise that should be emphasized and reinforced by every mental health professional to their patients include the following:
- Improved sleep
- Increased interest in sex
- Stress relief
- Improvement in mood
- Reduced tiredness that can increase mental alertness
Of course, these effects also include reduced cholesterol improved heart health and all the usual benefits of exercise. But if you're struggling with mental health issues such as anxiety, depression or a general low mood, lacing up your trainers has a preventative effect.
Liked this? More Wellness Week Content below:
- 'I tried light therapy and this is what happened'
- Why 'scentscaping' can help you to successfully meditate
- Light therapy: everything you need to know, including does it work?
Wellness Week on Fit&Well
Wellness Week is brought to you in association with Wiggle. Each day this week, we'll help you accelerate your wellness journey by making improvements across areas including fitness, diet and nutrition, mindfulness and more.
Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and Staff Writer at Fit&Well. He's previously written for titles like Men's Health, and covers all things exercise and nutrition on the Fit&Well website.
Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen kickboxer and runner. His top fitness tip? Stretch.
Why menopause can cause dry, itchy eyes – and how to stop it
Health This menopausal symptom isn’t spoken about enough but an alarming number of women suffer from it
By Jessica Downey •
Chris Hemsworth doesn’t always feel motivated to work out. Here’s his solution
Fitness According to a recent IG post, Chris Hemsworth doesn’t let the occasional over-indulgence get in the way of a good workout
By Jessica Downey •