Exercise is great for mental health and for some it acts as therapy. No matter what you have going on, doing your favorite exercise puts you in the moment and puts all your troubles in the background.
A lot of stuff happens that’s out of our control. The stress and anxiety that comes with this is reduced by getting out of your own head.
And the best way to do this (in my opinion) is exercise. Now, I love resistance training, but you might not. The point is to seek enjoyment from movement and not punishment when you’re not operating at 100%. It helps to remember exercise helps you feel better as well as look better.
Sometimes feeling better is more important.
Why Exercise Acts As Therapy
Did you know almost one in five Americans suffer from a mental illness each year and one in 25 American adults live with a serious mental illness. (1)
According to the Mental Illness Policy Organization, 50% of people living with a mental illness or mental health issues don’t seek treatment. This implies a lot of self-medicating. (2)
Having dealt with this firsthand, the substance abuse dulls the pain but doesn’t make it go away. This is one of the reasons why I turned to exercise. Excessive amounts of drugs and alcohol didn’t make my body feel good or made the pain go away.
Exercise helps to reduce mild to moderate depression, dementia, anxiety, and even reduces cognitive issues in schizophrenia. Aerobic exercises, including jogging, swimming, cycling, walking, gardening, and dancing is proven to reduce anxiety and depression. (3)
Put simply, exercise directly affects brain health. But how? Regular exercise increases the volume of certain brain regions particularly the hippocampus. This through better blood supply that improves overall brain health by improving the delivery of oxygen and other vital nutrients. (4)
The Hippocampus is an area that’s involved in memory, emotion regulation, learning and plays a crucial role in mental health. There’s evidence to suggest many mental health issues is associated (but not the only reason) with reduced growth and development of nervous tissue in the hippocampus. (5)
This makes exercise doubly vital not only for physical health but mental health too. Let’s dive into how lifting weights helps with your state of mind.
A meta-analysis was done on the associations between resistance training and those suffering with depressive symptoms. With this analysis of 33 clinical trials including 1877 people concluded that resistance training was associated with a significant reduction in depressive symptoms. (6)
There was no difference between male or female or whether the person went to the gym more than twice a week. Although this link is strong, there was no theories given why this works.
Training probably has both physiological and psychological consequences, says Brett Gordon, a graduate student at the University of Limerick in Ireland. He suggested that weight training could be changing aspects of the brain, including the levels of various neurochemicals that influence moods. (7)
It’s a correlation but not a causation. When dealing with the brain there are many factors at play but flexing always helps. 😊
Exercise Helps But Sometimes You Need A Little More
Note- This is from personal experience. Please feel free to agree or disagree in the comments below.
Serious mental issues need more than exercise to cure one’s mind and body. Exercise plays a vital role sure, but exercise cannot cure a chemical imbalance in the brain or damaging ingrained behaviors. Targeted medication and therapy will make a huge dent in those.
Even with all my experience with lifting weights and using exercise as therapy, I was still a simmering pot of rage. Exercise helped me deal with self-abusive behaviors but when it came to my anger issues, exercise could only do so much.
Lifting weights didn’t stop me from wanting to put my son’s head through a wall. As much as I suppressed these feelings of anger through exercise and mediation, I needed help. And that’s why I went to therapy.
My therapist is helping to get to the root causes of my anger and calls me out on my crap and gives me tools to deal with these issues when they crop up. You see I had a bunch of ingrained behaviors which were damaging my personal relationships and eating me from the inside out.
All the exercise in the world couldn’t help me. Only therapy could.
Exercise is great for mental health and is fantastic therapy for the body and soul. But when it comes to serious issues, sure exercise helps but it’s not a replacement for medication or one on one time with a therapist.
Exercise is great for mental and physical health. Plus, it acts as therapy to me and many others. For some, exercise is all that’s needed to keep the devil at bay but for others (including myself) a little more is required.
There is no shame in asking for help. We cannot go through this life alone.