As physical therapists, the physical component of health and wellness is easily understood and commonly discussed around injury prevention and rehabilitation. However, every day we treat patients that have also been affected by depression, anxiety, increased levels of stress, and low self-esteem due to injury and decreased functional ability. We strive to maintain a holistic approach to patient care and effectively serve the communities around us, remaining well acquainted with the benefits of exercise on mental health and wellness. Here are a few ways that exercise has been proven to boost our mental health.
Studies show that exercise is more effective in treating mild to moderate forms of depression than anti-depressant medications as exercise is devoid of the side effects of medication. Exercise is powerful in fighting depression as it promotes neural growth and reduced overall inflammation due to improved blood flow. Exercise also releases endorphins, which are powerful chemicals in our brains that improve our mood and increases feelings of calm and well-being. Lastly, exercise can also serve as a healthy distraction to help us to break from patterns of negative thoughts that feed depression.1,2
Exercise has been proven to relieve tension and stress while boosting energy levels.2 Any safe physical activity will be helpful, but intentionality around mind-body connection during exercise will provide the greatest benefit to us. Our mindfulness around how our bodies feel during exercise can interrupt our worries while improving our physical fitness. For example, focusing on the rhythm of our breathing while jogging or our awareness of intentional contraction of the proper muscle groups during strength training will not only improve your physical condition faster, but it will take our minds off of our anxieties.
Unfortunately, stress is no stranger to any of us. Have you ever noticed the tension in your muscles when you’re under stress? The muscles of our face, neck, and shoulders often become tense leaving us with neck pain, back pain, or even painful headaches related to high stress levels. Other stress-induced problems tend to surface such as insomnia, stomach aches, heartburn, and bowel/bladder dysfunction. The worry and discomfort of these physical symptoms can often compile, creating even more stress in a vicious cycle between our bodies and our minds. As aforementioned, exercise is an effective way to break this pattern through the release of endorphins in the brain and through the relief of muscle tension with physical activity.
Regular exercise has been proven to make our minds sharper as it is one of the best ways to improve concentration, motivation, and memory.3 Physical activity immediately boosts our brain’s release of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin—all of which affect focus and attention. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) for example, is often treated with medications. However, exercise has been proven to be just as effective in treating this disorder without the side effects of medication.4
Exercise boosts our mental health in many ways, but one of the greatest benefits of physical activity is that it fosters a sense of accomplishment. Whether it’s adding time to our walk or cutting down time in a sprint, exercise gives us all a sense of pride in achieving our goals which has a myriad of positive effects on our mental health. In the short-term, exercise has been shown to improve our mood and influence our minds toward adopting more positive thought patterns. In the long-term, physical exercise can improve our confidence by making us feel good about our functional abilities and overall fitness.
If you’re experiencing pain, injury or any limitations that are preventing you from reaping the many health benefits of exercise, reach out to an Athletico near you for a Free Assessment. During your no cost assessment, a licensed physical therapist will go over your condition and provide expert recommendations to get you on the path to recovery. Free Assessments are available in-clinic and virtually through our Telehealth platform.
The Athletico blog is an educational resource written by Athletico employees. Athletico bloggers are licensed professionals who abide by the code of ethics outlined by their respective professional associations. The content published in blog posts represents the opinion of the individual author based on their expertise and experience. The content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice and should not be relied on for making personal health decisions.
1. Camacho, Terry C., et al. “Physical Activity and Depression: Evidence from Alameda County Study.” American Journal of Epidemiology, The Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health, 1991, deepblue.lib.umich.edu/bitstream/handle/2027.42/51373/Camacho%20TC%2C%20Physical%20Activity%20and%20Depression%2C%201991.pdf?sequence=1.
2. Carek, Peter A., et al. “Exercise for the Treatment of Depression and Anxiety.” International Journal Psychiatry, Vol. 41(1) 15-28, 2011, Baywood Publishing Co., 2011, www.exerciseismedicine.org/singapore/assets/page_documents/Exercise_N_Depression.pdf.
3. Erickson, Kirk I, et al. “Exercise Training Increases Size of Hippocampus and Improves Memory.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, National Academy of Sciences, 15 Feb. 2011, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3041121/?tool.
4. Silva, Alessandro P., et al. “Measurement of the Effect of Physical Exercise on the Concentration of Individuals with ADHD.” PLOS ONE, Public Library of Science, journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0122119.