Mental Health + Exercise

As you probably already know — CHAARG girls love to sweat. One of our core beliefs is that when you work out, you feel good! So, it’s no surprise that exercise is directly related to mental health. While exercise benefits almost all aspects of overall health + wellness, it can also have profound effects on your mental wellbeing + help with a variety of mental illnesses including depression +  anxiety. In fact, according to Dr. Michael Craig Miller, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, “for some people, it works as well as antidepressants, although exercise alone isn’t enough for someone with severe depression.”

You might be asking yourself — how does my sweat sesh affect my mental health? Exercise increases a variety of substances that play an important role in brain function. According to the Mental Health America 2018 Fact Sheet, exercise increases BDNF [brain derived neurotrophic factor], endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, + glutamate + GABA. BDF is a protein that creates + protects the nerve cells in the brain and helps regulate depression-like behaviors. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is increased during exercises — this messenger helps coordinate sleep, appetite, + mood. It’s also the neurotransmitter that is targeted by antidepressants + anti-anxiety medications known as SSRIs or SNRIs. Finally, Glutamate and GABA both act to regulate  activity in the brain that process visual information, heart rate, + affect emotions as well as the ability to think clearly. These are both increased during periods of exercise! Not only are there biological reactions that are positively affected by exercise, there are psychological ones too! According to the American Psychological Association, “exercise may boost a depressed person’s outlook by helping them return to meaningful activity +  providing a sense of accomplishment. Then, there’s the fact that a person’s responsiveness to stress is moderated by activity.”  

Clearly, exercise has some amazing benefits not only for your overall health, but especially your mental health! So, how much exercise ++ what types of exercise are the most beneficial for your mental wellbeing?

According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, ANY exercise is better than none — however, a moderate level of exercise seems to work the best + keeping a regular exercise routine is best. A moderate level of exercise is equivalent to walking fast,but being able to talk to someone at the same time [think of being able to hold a conversation, but you probably couldn’t sing a song!]. The Royal College of Psychiatrists also recommend 30 minutes of exercise at least 5 days every week.

If you are currently depressed or suffering from anxiety, it might be hard to even consider starting an exercise routine. The article The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise by Lawrence Robinson, Jeanne Segal, + Melinda Smith advises that you start small! “Even a short, 15 minute walk can help clear your mind, improve your mood, +  boost your energy level.” Setting goals that are realistic + measurable is important. Don’t set a goal like working out for 1 hour every morning if you haven’t made it to the gym in a few weeks, instead set a goal of doing a 20 minute walk every morning. Setting these smaller + gradual goals will boost your confidence + you’ll experience more control over your well-being. It’s better to start off small with the exercise + work your way up to more vigorous activity!

Now that you’ve decided to start an exercise routine… where to start?! What types of exercises are best? Robinson, Segal, + Smith recommend any activity that you enjoy + will get you moving! We believe that fitness can [+ should!] be fun — so try out a few different workouts + find one that you look forward to. Whether that’s walking in the park, going to a Zumba class, or biking somewhere — anything that gets you moving should help boost your mood!

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