Mental Health & Exercise: How Exercise Lifts You Out Of A Funk

Wednesday, October 11, 2006 - 11:32am

By Michele Silence, MA

We all experience less than happy times in our lives. However, at other times, there's really nothing wrong in our lives...and yet we still feel blue. In either case, a good dose of exercise can be the perfect cure. In fact, research conducted on exercise and depression has demonstrated that exercise really does positively influence mood. And with a mood boost comes more smiles and less stress. Although no one knows why this phenomenon occurs, there are some common beliefs as to why exercise alleviates depression.

Exercise makes you feel good

Here are four ways exercise can help elevate your mood:

1.   As you exercise, your brain releases endorphins which make you feel good

When you exercise, you increase the natural pain killers in your body called endorphins. Endorphins work much like man-made stimulants. Once endorphins enter the bloodstream, your emotional frame of mind becomes more positive. Endorphins work much like any other drug. The differences between endorphins and pharmaceuticals are: endorphins are safer, they're always available when needed, and they are much stronger than pharmaceuticals.

2.   Exercise improves your circulation and your feel alive

Fatigue, headaches and other ailments associated with poor circulation may all disappear during a regular fitness regimen. When your blood pumps faster, your circulation increases. Greater circulation can make you feel awake, alert and alive. When you're enjoying the day and feeling refreshed, you'll ward off feelings of depression more effectively.

3.   Make friends and socialize through exercise

If the physiological benefits of exercise don't get you excited, the social ones will. You may want to begin an exercise program simply for the interactive value. It's a great way to meet people, make friends and have fun socializing. You'll get to laugh, talk, play and go places with others who are facing some of the same issues in their lives. Talking about your feelings and laughing more reduces depression.

4.    Getting in shape, your body looks better, you feel better

As you get in better shape, your body looks better physically. Pounds come off, muscles begin to show, skin looks healthier and you carry yourself differently. It doesn't take long before others notice and compliment you. When you look in the mirror you'll like what you see more and naturally feel better.

How much exercise is enough?

No one knows the optimal amount of exercise needed for mental health. For endurance athletes, research shows that too much of a good thing can actually be detrimental to mood; athletes who over train can exhibit signs of mood disturbances until their training is reduced. At this point, the best advice is to exercise moderately and often. When you do, you'll look better, make friends and enjoy the natural mood elevators your body produces. As a result, you'll find you're less depressed and enjoying life more!