You know that feeling when you have finished a long run or completed a tough workout or after a game where you feel absolutely exhausted, pushed to the edge of your limits BUT you also feel extremely and undeniably satisfied. Yes you are dripping with sweat, your face is red and clammy and your joints may be aching but if someone asks you ‘how do you feel?’, you feel great! Exercise has a remarkable euphoric effect and it isn’t just because after we have finished we feel we can go and smash a large domino’s pizza to our self and it’s justified.
When we exercise our body releases endorphins, serotonin and norepinephrine (feel good hormones!). In people with depression serotonin and norepinephrine (brain neurotransmitters) levels are diminished. Therefore the release of these hormones, caused by exercise, reduces feelings of depression. These hormones also have an impact on reducing anxiety, and stress.
Various research studies presented by Craft and Perna (2004) suggest physical activity should be the primary care for clinically depressed patients. Now I am not saying that if you are depressed, go for run, and everything will be ok again. However, prescribed exercise has been found to be a good tool for managing and improving your mental health. The studies presented by Craft and Perna (2004) showed that physical activity was more effective than being part of a social group when treating depression. There are numerous studies out there (google scholar search them) that show exercise can be just as effective as medication at treating mental health issues. A recent study from Marszalek (2016) further supports the use of prescribed exercise to treat depression and highlights how exercise can improve self efficacy. Craft and Perna (2004) also present evidence that exercise reduces anxiety and all of the findings discussed above are further supported by Dunn et al., (2002). Dubbert (2002) states that people with higher fitness levels can manage stress more effectively. Ok so lets say you agree that exercise should be the first form of treatment you consider for mental health issues. I mean why not? 1) It’s free, and 2) anyone can use it. But what type of exercise and how intensely should I be exercising?
To be honest it doesn’t matter! The studies presented by Craft and Perna (2004) show that there is little difference between aerobic exercise (running) and resistance training (lifting weights) as methods to treat depression. Both have desirable outcomes and improve mood. Running has even been found to be AS effective as psychotherapy!
…what about as we get older?
Elward and Larsen (1992) found that moderate intensity exercise improved the mental processing in the elderly as well. Cassilhas (2007) shows that the elderly are less likely to develop mental disorders irrespective of the intensity. This research showed elderly people can still exercise at high intensity exercise and receive numerous benefits. However, the study does suggest that moderate intensity is better for elderly people to improve cognitive function and mood. This same study highlights that exercise can improve short and long term memory and explains that this all happens due to the increased blood flow from exercise, which in turn increases the delivery of Oxygen and nutrients to the brain.
Finding work stressful, feeling low, getting a little older and starting to forget things more regularly – Keep exercising , and if you are not already, then START! Exercise could be that happy pill that you need.