Influence of Exercise on Mental Health by Karen Harrer, RN/Infection Control

It has been well researched and documented that exercise has many physical health benefits, such as preventing diabetes and cardiovascular diseases and improving your immune response.  During the summer months, individuals may find it easier to take the time to go for a walk or run, garden or even go boating as the nice Minnesota weather calls us outdoors.  Yet does exercise only improve physical health?

The answer is no.  Over the years there has been more and more research looking at the effects exercise has on mental health.  Exercise has been linked to improved mental health by reducing anxiety and depression and by improving self-esteem and your response to stress.

Depression – When a person exercises, Endorphin’s, a neurotransmitter, are released throughout the body.  Endorphins act as a “feel good” chemical within our body. A person with depression often lacks motivation to exercise.  However, even going for daily walks will allow the individual to benefit from the “feel good” effects of Endorphins working on their body, improving depression symptoms.

Anxiety – When you exercise, your body becomes sweaty and your heart rate and respiration rate increase.  However, you do not become alarmed with these symptoms as they are expected result when exercising.  The physical results of  exercise produce similar symptoms as anxiety.  Exercise can help train your body and mind to not react so strongly to these symptoms which can help decrease the severity of an anxiety attack.

Self Esteem – We have already learned that exercise produces a “feel good” effect.  Exercise can also boost a person’s outlook on many factors such as self-esteem and provides a sense of accomplishment.  By completing an exercise (walking, running, biking, etc.) you physically and mentally prove to yourself that you can do it, which can motivate you to do it again.

Stress – The physical act of exercise puts stress on our body.  Our brain, however, tells us “keep going, you are alright.”  It is thought that our response to stress is moderated by activity.  The more we train our brain to tell us “you are alright” the less impact stress has on our physical and mental health.

So, if we know the benefits of exercise on mental health, why is it so hard to do?  Starting out too hard in a new exercise program may be one reason why people are discouraged to exercise. Don’t expect to run a marathon within the first month.  Set your sights to something more practical, like walking or maybe evening running in a 5K.

In the month of July, Prairie Care is Sponsoring 3 5K walk/runs to promote Suicide Awareness and Prevention.   Suicide can be linked to increased depression, low self-esteem and high levels of stress.  Knowing that exercise and improve these symptoms related to Suicide, get out there and show your support while helping your own mental health!