Regular exercise burns calories, builds muscles and decreases inflammation. In short, it does a body good. With all the physical benefits that come along with a fitness regimen, it should come as no surprise that there are mental benefits as well. The brain is part of the body, after all.
Last year, we discussed a decision by the American Psychiatric Association to include exercise in a treatment guideline for depression. Increasingly, what researchers are now finding is that working out your body improves the health of your mind. It can relieve symptoms of all kinds of mental disorders from depression to Alzheimer’s disease.
For some time, scientists studying exercise have been puzzled by two seemingly incompatible effects of physical activity on the brain – its ability to create or activate “excitable” brain cells and its ability to relax our minds over time. The short-term relaxation effects of exercise are at least partly explained by simple chemistry. Exercise releases happiness chemicals called endorphins. For many, it naturally inspires feelings of self-worth. Plus, it helps regulates circadian rhythm and body temperature which makes it easier to sleep at night.
What’s been more difficult to explain, from a scientific standpoint, is how regular exercise can equip exercisers to better handle stress, anxiety and depression whenever they may strike. A Yale University study recently published in The Journal of Neuroscience proposes that the long-term stabilizing effects of exercise are due to a restructuring of the brain’s anatomy, not just a repeated rush of mood-boosting chemicals.
The research found that physical activity causes the brain to produce lots of new cells – both excitable neurons and stress-blocking ones. Certain brains cells are designed specifically to quiet brain activity and keep unnecessary anxiety at bay. Exercising can increase the number of these kinds of cells in an individual’s brain so that when a stimulus of stress comes along, the feelings of stress go away faster.
It’s clear that exercise does much more than keep people toned and slim. Yet we rarely see its mental benefits being discussed outside of science labs. At Georgia Psychiatrist in Decatur Consultants, we’re always pleased to discover new and effective ways to treat patients’ symptoms so we’re excited at the possibility of adding exercise to our repertoire of viable mental health treatments. If you or someone you love is suffering from symptoms of aMental Disorder Doctor Atlanta, you should get in touch with us ASAP to discuss your options.