Mental Health and Exercise
The past three years have been a rollercoaster of negative things one after the other, the pandemic, heightened police brutality, the recession, and the loss of women’s rights. I know that for me the latter is the one that fills me with the most anxiety, for some reason old men that somehow hold political power, want it to be 1950 again and have control over a woman and her body again. However, knowing that I can still take care of it and exercise out all the stresses about the things unfolding in this country, is somewhat comforting. The mind is just as important to take care of as is the body, healing the body simultaneously starts healing the mind. This blog is going to be about the effects of exercise and how it can begin to relieve depressive feelings and anxious thoughts.
My personal experience
When I was younger I did not understand why I felt “nervous” all the time, like something bad was going to happen at any second and I couldn’t control it. As I get older I learn more and more about my anxiety and what it means for me. I try to find the root cause of my heart racing and overthinking, a lot of it centers around control and the unknown. I noticed before swimming at competitions, for example, that while it is normal to be nervous, I would be sick to my stomach with angst and fear that something would go wrong. As I grew with the sport, my coach was great at training us to the point where we knew how to react under any circumstances, and to be confident enough in the routine and our teammates that everything would go as planned. Eventually, my anxiety at meets was massively minimized and what was left was simply nerves and excitement. I still experience anxiety outside of the pool as life gets more serious and I start to make decisions about my future, but I know that the gym and pool are places I can go to escape my thoughts and replace the anxious heart rate with an exercise-induced racing heart.
I know first-hand that mental health is improved after working out, after swim practices my body is so worn out that I don’t even have the energy to stay up at night anxious. Exercise releases so many endorphins and is literally a way to make you feel happier and relaxed.
The scientific reasoning
Seratonin, oxytocin, dopamine, and endorphins are the four crucial chemicals to keep in check. When there is even the slightest imbalance that is when depression and anxiety surface. Of course, there are medications to help set everything to normal, but exercise is a natural way to go about doing that.* When people tell you all it takes is 15 minutes for endorphins to kick in, they aren’t lying to you, it’s as simple as that. However, making sure it is something you enjoy and can challenge yourself with is just as important.
Additionally, exercise helps with stress, it can train your body and mind on how to react if a stress-inducing event comes along by recalling how you got through it when there was stress on your body during your workout.
*Disclaimer: Depression is a very serious mental illness and the help of a doctor is very much recommended, I am not claiming exercise can get rid of it for good.
Good sleep → healthy brain
Picture it this way, if you sit around all day and not once get up and move around for more than two minutes when it gets time to go to sleep, there is no way you will be tired. Your body needs an intense workout sometimes to feel tired.
I have a very close friend who did hardcore ballet for years, when she came to college she still did it but not at the intensity level as before and not as frequently. She has massive issues sleeping, sometimes running off of two hours of sleep. While this was always somewhat of an issue, it was not as severe. I would argue there is a connection between the lack of exercise she is getting and her lack of sleep.
If you work out, there is a higher chance you will fall asleep faster and have a better night’s sleep as well, and this then leads to being more well rested, then more productive throughout the day. I don’t know about you but the more productive I am, the less anxious I feel because I got so much done.
Loooooonnngggg story short, get to the gym, go for a walk outside, swim some laps, and do anything that gets your body moving, you will feel great afterward and be able to relax and escape negative thoughts for a while.