Exercise and Mental Health

Photo Credit:  Emma Simpson/Unsplash

Photo Credit: Emma Simpson/Unsplash

Let’s keep it simple: exercise directly affects the brain. Psychiatrist Madhukar Trivedi has shown that three or more sessions per week of aerobic exercise or weight training, for 45 to 60 minutes per session, can help treat even chronic depression. Effects tend to be noticed after about four weeks and training should be continued for 10-12 weeks for the greatest anti-depressant effect.

The brain has a great way to get us back on track. As outlined by Psychology Today blogger Christopher Bergland, even small improvements in exercise levels or diet create a positive upward spiral which increases the sensitivity of dopamine. Dopamine is an important brain chemical that influences your mood and feelings of reward and motivation. It helps regulate body movements as well. This will result in a feel good experience!

Although levels are generally regulated well by our body, what we can do to boost our levels naturally?

  • Eat lots of protein

  • Eat less saturated fats

  • Consume probiotics

  • Eat velvet beans

  • Exercise often

  • Consider supplements

  • Get enough sleep

  • Listen to music

  • Meditate

  • Get enough sunlight

Will a doctor write a prescription for exercise for mental health and have it covered by MSI? That would be amazing! But until then, here is some information.

Exercise and depression

Exercise is a powerful way to fight depression. It promotes all kinds of changes in the brain, including neural growth, reduced inflammation, and creates new patterns that promote feelings of calm and well-being. It also releases endorphins, which are the powerful chemicals in your brain which make you feel good. Finally, exercise can also serve as a distraction, it can allow you some time to get get out of the cycle of negative thoughts.

Exercise and anxiety

Exercise is an effective treatment for anxiety. It relieves tension and stress, increases physical and mental energy, as well as releasing endorphins. Anything that gets you moving can help, but you’ll get a bigger benefit if you pay attention instead of zoning out.

Let’s add a mindfulness component:

Notice the sensation of your feet hitting the ground.

Focus on the rhythm of your breathing.

Feel of the wind on your skin.

Pay attention to the muscle that you are working on.

This could improve your exercise routine and it may interrupt the flow of worries.

So what is the bottom line?

  • Eat a balanced diet that contains enough protein, vitamins and minerals, probiotics and a moderate amount of saturated fat can help your body produce the dopamine it needs.

  • For people with dopamine deficiency diseases, such as Parkinson’s, eating natural food sources of L-dopa like fava beans or Mucuna pruriens may help restore dopamine levels.

  • Lifestyle choices are also important! Getting enough sleep, exercising, listening to music, meditating and spending time in the sun can all boost dopamine levels.

  • Overall, a balanced diet and lifestyle can go a long way in increasing your body’s natural production of dopamine and helping your brain function at its best.

  • Check with your doctor before taking any supplements or medication.

ASSET is a one-week program offered by reachAbility which involves learning self-compassion and reframing negative thinking. To learn more, please visit the program page or call us at 902.429.5878.