Mindful Workouts: Mental Health Benefits of Exercise
“Movement is a medicine for creating change in a person’s physical, emotional and mental states.” - Carol Welch
Exercise is good for our health. That’s common knowledge. It helps burn excess fat, develop muscle mass, increase flexibility, and more. But, what we don’t often realize is that exercise also has hidden benefits for our brain and mental health, too.
One of these benefits is an increase in chemicals that heighten feelings of happiness, concentration, and stress relief.
Endorphins, or the body’s natural “feel good” chemicals, are a great example. Endorphins help reduce pain and stress as well as boost feelings of pleasure. When we exercise, our body releases endorphins into our bloodstream, which helps with relaxation and overall happiness.
Exercise also causes our bodies to release dopamine. This chemical is quite popular for being the “pleasure hormone”, but it’s important to note that dopamine is also the “achievement hormone”. In other words, it aids in concentration and motivation. Studies show that the higher one’s dopamine levels are in their body (within a safe range, of course), the higher their alertness, focus, and creativity.
Endorphins and dopamine are only some of the many hormones that are released as a result of exercise. These hormones not only help aid our mental health by increasing feelings of happiness, relaxation, and concentration, but they also help prevent and treat psychological disorders.
For example, depression, which affects about 20% of all teens before adulthood, can be partially prevented by exercise. One study shows that running for 15 minutes or merely walking for an hour reduces the risk of major depression by 26%. Chemically, this makes sense. Chemicals like endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine are released via exercise, which increases feelings of pleasure and happiness in the person exercising.
Interesting studies have found that exercising can even reduce symptoms of ADHD, too. This is because exercise increases chemicals like dopamine and norepinephrine, which improve concentration, motivation, memory, and mood.
Clearly, there are many mental health benefits to exercising, but, how can we make sure we get the most of these benefits?
According to the CDC, adolescents should aim to get 60 minutes or more of medium-to-high intensity exercise daily. For maximum effectiveness, it’s also important to get daily aerobic workout (exercises that will make your heart beat faster) as well as 3 days of bone strengthening workouts (i.e. running, jumping) and 3 days of muscle strengthening workouts (i.e. push ups, weight training).
Overall, the simplest and most important tip to having a happy and healthy brain is to start exercising more often.
- Dhisha Kukalakuntla,
Founder & President