We writers sit on our butts. A lot. Which isn’t good for our waist-lines or our mental health. Or, apparently, our lives. According to this article on CNN, sitting can actually decrease your life span which is pretty freaking alarming.
But I’m not going to address that today. I’m going to explore exercise and mental health. The links between anxiety, depression and exercise aren’t completely clear, but a number of studies have found that exercise, does indeed help ease symptoms caused by mental health problems.
This scholarly article on the National Library of Medicine website states that aerobic exercises has been proved to reduce anxiety and depression and the link is most probably caused by an exercise-induced increase in blood circulation to the brain which has something to do with the relationship between the pituitary gland, the limbic system, the amygdala and the hippocampus. Okay, so what they actually wrote in their study is far more technical, but the meaning is clear… get out of the chair and get some exercise.
According to these same good doctors, the health benefits from exercise include improved sleep, increased interest in sex, stress relief, improvement in mood, reduced tiredness which improves cognitive ability, and increased energy.
Insomnia, tiredness and lack of energy all make you feel sluggish, out of sorts and worsen mild depression or anxiety. I suffer from cyclic insomnia and can attest to its negative effects. Perhaps nothing has a worse effect on mood than chronic tiredness. It’s odd to think that exercise can increase both energy and alertness, but it does.
Another study by a team in England tested subjects suffering from mood disorders over a period of ten weeks. One group was given aerobic exercise, another relaxation exercises and another a music appreciation course. The patients were tested before and after the program with a psychological stress test. The subjects who spent ten weeks getting some sort of regular aerobic exercise showed the fasted recovery in both heart rate and electrodermal response to the same psychological stress. In other words, their recovery to stressors was much quicker than the participants who did the relaxation exercises and the music appreciation course.
This article in the New York Times is a fascinating look at how exercise changes our DNA. So basically, we are being changed at the molecular level just by making ourselves go to the gym. Wow.
I started running a little over a year ago and in spite of the time and energy it takes, I have been more energetic and productive than I’ve ever been in my entire life. Because of injuries, I’ve added strength training to my regular exercise routine and have the added bonus of increased strength. Currently I am working on adding yoga to my routine to increase my balance and flexibility. (Yes, I am prepping for old age where these elements are key!)
I feel like the lifestyle modifications I’ve made in my life over the last year, which also include diet and meditation, in addition to regular exercise, have been important in keeping me positive and focused. Finding exercise is like finding a new religion… it can be life-changing.
Photo credit: Mapichai and freedigitalphotos.net