There is a popular saying that goes, “You’re only one workout away from a good mood.”
And though it may be a quote stuck on some Pinterest board, it does hold some truth to it.
The connection between fitness and mental health is a relatively new area of exploration in the research field, but these new findings could help unlock some of the mysteries behind mental health.
How does physical activity tie in with mental health?
A study published in BMC Medicine in December, 2020, looked at a group of 152,978 UK Biobank participants, aged 40 to 69 years old and recorded their transformation over a seven year period. The findings concluded that there was a clear link between low physical activity and a higher risk of developing depression, anxiety, or even both.
Anxiety affects 18.1% of adults who are 18 years or older, while depression affects 6.7% of adults, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). And usually these two conditions go hand-in-hand, with nearly half of all people diagnosed with depression also developing an anxiety disorder.
Explaining the “runner’s high”
So how does exercise help prevent or ease depression and anxiety? When you exercise, chemicals in the brain are released called endorphins. You may experience joy, a lower perception of pain, and even a sense of euphoria. For example, people may talk about the “runner’s high”, which is that feeling when endorphins get released and you start to feel happy and carefree while you’re running. You can get this feeling with other workouts as well.
Endorphins are just one of many neurotransmitters that are released in the brain during a workout. Serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine are also released. Serotonin is a big factor in reducing stress and regulating your mood.
All of these neurotransmitters working together can also help balance out your hormones. One of the more pesky hormones, adrenaline, triggers your fight-or-flight response, which is crucial in a survival situation, but not on a daily basis as too much of it can be very detrimental to your health. Regular exercise can help keep adrenaline and other hormones in check.
Shifting your focus from worry to workout
Also, just think about this. If you go to the gym for an hour, then that’s one hour out of your day where you’re solely focused on the workout and nothing else. This can be a huge help for when your mind is racing and thinking about a big event coming up or that meeting that didn’t go too well this week.
It’s an hour for you to forget about the past and future, and control what’s happening in the present.
Calm your mind by strengthening your body and heart
Now, let’s look at the BMC Medicine study again. This study looked at both cardiovascular strength and muscle strength and showed that if both categories are strong, then the participants’ risk of depression and anxiety went down. If the participant has both low cardiovascular and muscle strength, then their risk of developing anxiety or depression goes up.
According to this study, if you want to lower your risk of developing one of these disorders, then you should be focusing on both strength and cardiovascular workouts.
Exercise is personal, so find something that is fun and that you will enjoy doing multiple times a week. If you like dancing, try Zumba or barre class. If you like loud music and getting your sweat on, try BODYPUMP or spin class. If you like the water, take a water aerobics class or swim some laps.
The next time you’re getting ready to hit the gym or hit the trails, fuel up with a Vitapod Energy+ pod or the Sports+ pod to boost your energy levels with flavonoids and caffeine, keep you hydrated with electrolytes, and help you recover with carbohydrates and sodium.
Because when you exercise, you’re not only improving your physical health, but you’re also improving your mental health. It’s a real win-win.