Exercise and Mental Health

Note – This is a section from my up and coming eBook

I know that if you’re struggling with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression the last thing that is on your mind is exercise, But with the overall benefits don’t write it off just yet.

Always speak to your doctor before you start a new exercise regime, and the following is for educational purposes only.

Throughout this Ebook, Blood sugar imbalances, Stress and Blood Circulation have shown up time and time again being major disruptors in brain health and causes of Depression and Anxiety. Exercise can help manage all three of them with many more benefits.

‘Regular exercise can boost your mood if you have depression, and it’s especially useful for people with mild to moderate depression.’ (293.) For many people exercise works just as well as antidepressants (294.)

Exercise and Mental Health

Many studies have shown that exercise is very efficient at reducing symptoms of depression.

30 community-dwelling moderately depressed men and women were randomly assigned to an exercise intervention group, a social support group, or a wait-list control group. (295-296.)

‘The exercise intervention consisted of walking 20 to 40 minutes 3 times per week for 6 weeks. The authors reported that the exercise program alleviated overall symptoms of depression and was more effective than the other 2 groups in reducing somatic symptoms of depression.’

In another study, just 30 minutes of treadmill walking for 10 consecutive days was sufficient to produce a clinically relevant and statistically significant reduction in depression. (297.)

Other studies have shown that the effects that exercise has on reducing depression is maintained after the exercise program has finished in one study up to 12 months after the initial program. (298.)

Exercise programs have also been shown to be effective at reducing anxiety (299,300) ‘The benefits are strongest when you exercise regularly. People who exercise regularly are less likely to experience anxiety than those who don’t exercise’ (310,311.) 

As well as releasing feel-good endorphins. “In people who are depressed, neuroscientists have noticed that the hippocampus in the brain, the region that helps regulate mood, is smaller. Exercise supports nerve cell growth in the hippocampus, improving nerve cell connections, which helps relieve depression” (294.)

Exercise and Blood Sugar and Blood Flow

Exercise helps with blood sugar and increases insulin sensitivity. After you have exercised your muscles are depleted of Glucose meaning the next time you eat, Glucose will be transported to the muscles first to refuel them. Exercise also promotes the growth of new insulin receptor sites and has been shown to improve blood glucose levels for up to 3 days after exercise (301-303)

Exercise is one of the best and most accessible ways to increase brain blood flow and circulation. Research shows that moderate exercise increases blood flow to the brain by as much as 15%. (304-308.) 

Exercise and Stress

Whilst exercise is great at reducing stress, People who are stressed in some way or another are less likely to want to exercise and are more likely to take up more sedentary behaviours (309.) Which is understandable and maybe a good distraction in the moment, these behaviours over time will lead to more stress, anxiety and depression over time.

Exercise is actually a stressor to the body, which may sound contradictory but is great at reducing stress on the mind (310.) As mentioned exercise releases feel-good hormones that help you improve your mood and act as natural painkillers.

Overtime exercise helps reduce stress hormones such as cortisol (310, 312.) Combined with the release of feel-good hormones it helps you feel calm and in control of your life.

Exercise is like meditation, After exercise whether that’s a few laps of the pool, a long walk or run, You may find that whatever on your mind is forgotten whilst you focus on your body’s movements (313.) Exercise can also help improve sleep which as we discussed before can cause stress and lead to depression and anxiety.

Exercise and Eating Habits 

The fact that you are struggling with Anxiety and Depression means that you are not going to want to jump into a whole new healthy lifestyle. We also don’t want you adding further stress and Anxiety trying to get all these things into place at once. This doesn’t work for anyone.

The best thing to do is to implement slowly one thing at a time and make gradual adjustments.

Exercise for example, just pick one thing and start small. It’s best to pick something you think you might enjoy or just start with a walk. Go for a 10-minute walk everyday and over the weeks increase it to 15, 20 and so on. If you can do more then great.

The same with changing our eating habits just pick one thing and slowly add. Say your diet consists of a lot of starchy carbs instead of throwing them all out, keep them on your plate but add some veg to it. Over time you can add more protein or veg whilst slowly reducing the starchy carbs.

Completely changing your lifestyle all at once will only add more stress and its unrealistic. 

Once again speak to your local GP or health and fitness professional to help create a manageable and attainable plan.

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