Happy New Year to you all! I hope you had some time to relax and rejuvenate over the holiday season. It always seems like a whirlwind of activity and then BAM, here we are in 2022 already! If you are keen on making resolutions this year, keep in mind, the year ahead is more of a marathon, not a sprint! There will be hills and valleys to overcome, so looking at the big picture will feel less daunting.
Many people make new year resolutions of exercising to get back in shape, work off those holiday indulgences and get ready for that beach holiday (are we allowed to do that yet?!). Mental health has also been a hot topic in the last couple of years and research shows that exercise has benefits above the neck too! Scientists have been researching how exercise can boost brain function, reduce symptoms of depression and improve mental health illnesses, such as dementia.
Here are ten reasons exercise can benefit your mental health:
- Improve self confidence – Regardless of weight, age or gender, exercise can elevate one’s perception of his or her appearance, thereby improving one’s self worth and self confidence.
- Happy chemicals – Studies have shown that exercise can alleviate symptoms among the clinically depressed. Getting your body moving releases endorphins, which boost feelings of happiness and euphoria. Whether it’s walking, snowshoeing, or the elliptical, just 30 minutes a few times a week can boost your overall mood.
- Reduce stress – Despite the good cheer the holidays bring, December is typically a stressful time. With the arrival of January, it’s time to sweat that stress away! Working up a sweat can help manage physical and mental stress. Exercise has been shown to increase the release of norepinephrine, a chemical that moderates the brain’s response to stress.
- Prevent cognitive decline – Research shows that exercise can improve memory, reasoning, judgment and thinking skills (cognitive function) for people with mild Alzheimer’s disease or mild cognitive impairment (May 2021, Graff-Radford MD)
- Boost brain cells – various studies have shown that cardiovascular exercise can facilitate neurogenesis, aka new brain cells, and improve overall brain performance. It is thought that exercise promotes a brain derived protein known, in scholarly circles, as BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor). In the brain, BDNF is active in the hippocampus, cortex and basal forebrain – areas vital to memory, higher thinking and learning.
- Improved memory – back to that hippocampus! The increased production of cells in the areas of the brain responsible for memory, learning, and mood have helped researchers link children’s brain development with level of physical fitness (more Red Rover please!).
- Control addiction – dopamine is a neurotransmitter in the brain that plays a major role in reward motivated behavior. In response to any type of pleasure, be it exercise, drugs, alcohol or food, there is an increase in the levels of dopamine in the brain. Some people develop addictions and may rely on certain substances that amplify the effects of dopamine, namely drugs and alcohol. It has been shown that short bouts of exercise can effectively distract drug or alcohol addicts, making them de-prioritize cravings for the short term. Interesting nonetheless!
- Sleep better – on the theme of certain vices…alcohol has been shown to disrupt many body processes, including circadian rhythms. Exercise can help reboot our body’s internal clock and facilitate you hitting the hay at the right time.
- Relieve anxiety – when you have anxiety or depression, exercise often feels like the last thing you want to do. However, it has been shown to make a big difference. Some factors include releasing those happy chemicals that may ease depression, reduce immune system chemicals shown to worsen depression and by increasing body temperature, shown to have calming effect. Anything that gets you off the couch and moving is exercise that can help improve your mood.
- Enjoy the great outdoors – for an extra boost of mood enhancing fresh air, take that workout outside. All that Vitamin D acquired from soaking up the sun (yes, even in the winter!) has been shown to lessen the likelihood of experiencing depressive symptoms.
There is some food for thought for kicking off your New Year right. Welcome 2022 with feelings of self worth, happiness, good moods and a strong, healthy body and mind. Happy New Year from all of us at Bragg Creek Physiotherapy.
Jennifer Gordon (BSc.PT, GunnIMS, AFCI)