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#NSUFindYourStrong: Exercise and Mental Wellness

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Elle Woods’ comment in Legally Blonde that, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands,” is played as a joke, but she does have a point. At least, she has a point about exercise and endorphins leading to happiness. We will not comment on whether happy people shoot their husbands or not.

Multiple studies over the past decade suggest that exercise (particularly aerobic exercise, such as running, swimming, cycling, walking, gardening, dancing, the list goes on) improves overall mood, reduces anxiety, alleviates social withdrawal, provides stress relief, and may generally work to improve participants’ well-being.

Exactly how exercise causes these improvements in mental health is still uncertain. Some research attributes the benefits to increased blood circulation to the brain and an influence on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which reduces reactivity to stress. Other studies suggest that regular exercise leads to a more regulated sleeping pattern, which allows the brain ample time to repair and protect itself from the day’s activities. Still other research supports a psychological reason that exercise acts as a distraction from other stressors, while also providing a meaningful activity and sense of accomplishment.

While the mechanisms by which exercise improves well-being are unclear, the results are plain. However, there are some important details to remember before trying to use exercise as a cure-all treatment.

When going to exercise, do not overdo it. Starting with an activity that is too intense delays the benefits of exercise and runs the risk of injury. As little as an hour and a half of moderate physical activity a week has shown to be beneficial in some studies. Therefore, there is no need to start running 5Ks every weekend. Also, do not become obsessive with the results of your workouts. If you become fixated on using exercise to improve your moods, exercise may become a stressful chore rather than a casual activity. Instead, tune into how you feel after working out and use that time to relax.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, none of the research proposed that exercise could replace professional treatment for mental illness. The studies only pointed to exercise being a ‘lifestyle modification’, which could improve overall health and quality of life. Physical activity is no substitute for a professional medical opinion.

Start your workouts today at the RecPlex for as low as $30/month! Contact recwell@nova.edu or (954) 262-7301 today.

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Information from this article can be found in “Exercise for Mental Health” from the Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry and “The Exercise Effect” from the American Psychological Association.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1470658/

http://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/12/exercise.aspx