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January 13, 2016

people running

The Connections between Fitness and Mood

Someone who is depressed is not going to leap up from the sofa or bed and go running on a regular basis. The nature of depression is that it causes a sense of fatigue, in many cases overwhelming fatigue that makes exercise one of the last things the individual thinks about. However, mounting scientific evidence is showing that there are distinct connections between depression and anxiety and how exercise reduces them.

Naturally, we all know that regular exercise is going to help with blood pressure problems, diabetes, obesity, arthritis, and many other health issues. However, ongoing studies persistently demonstrate that there are emotional and psychological benefits from regular exercise as well.

The Explanation

Essentially, the experts have narrowed it down to two separate results - the physical changes that lead to enhanced mood and the emotional benefits that improve the mood. Let's consider the physical mood enhancers first:

  • Brain chemicals - Within five minutes of beginning to exercise (increasing the heart rate beyond the usual "resting" rate), the brain begins to generate more neurotransmitters, endorphins and endocannabinoids. These are all described as "feel good" chemicals and they include dopamine among many others.
  • Cuts bad chemicals - The immune system is a bit guilty where depression is concerned, and when we work out the immune system stops pumping out some of the chemicals that it creates that tend to worsen depression.
  • Boost body temperatures - Though scientists are unsure precisely why an increase in body temperature calms and soothes, it is shown that this factor also helps to lessen anxiety and depression

The emotional benefits cannot be ignored, and include:

  • Distract from feelings of tension or sadness
  • Get the individual out and about with others, even just saying hello
  • Boosts confidence which always reduces negative feelings
  • Provides a positive coping mechanism that, over time, reinforces the emotional benefits  

Beginning any program of physical fitness is going to also help to generally improve the overall health and wellbeing of the individual. Over time, even a short period of time, this is going to help to improve the mood because of the increase in beneficial brain and body chemicals.

Committing to regular workouts "promotes all kinds of changes in the brain, including neural growth, reduced inflammation, and new activity patterns that promote feelings of calm and wellbeing …  allowing you to find some quiet time to break out of the cycle of negative thoughts that feed depression." (HelpGuide)

The Diet Factor

Naturally, when we use the word "fitness" it cannot be just about physical fitness. Most people who pay attention to daily exercise are also people likely to eat well. This too has a profound impact on your mental well-being. Drinking lots of water and eating a diet that is balanced and nutritious naturally makes you "feel" better, but did you know that it can also boost brain health as well.

Many of the foods in the SAD (standard American diet) are guilty of causing "inflammation". That is not just bloating or swelling from too much sodium or fat but also inflammation at the cellular level. This causes the immune system to react, and this leads to the kinds of chronic inflammation that interferes with healthy body and brain function.

Additionally, it is not only bodily issues that trigger inflammation - stress and emotional issues cause it to occur, wreaking further havoc on different tissues and bodily functions. "Brain inflammation … has been linked to…Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis" (MedicalDaily)

There is every reason to consider exercise as part of your treatment for depression or anxiety. Don't ignore the use of helpful foods and supplements. There are even compounds known collectively as nootropics, which are natural foods and supplements specifically to help with brain health and wellness.


HelpGuide. Emotional benefits… http://www.medicaldaily.com/depression-linked-brain-inflammation-opening-new-avenues-treatment-319776

MedicalDaily. Depression linked to… http://www.medicaldaily.com/depression-linked-brain-inflammation-opening-new-avenues-treatment-319776