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What Is The Science Behind Exercise & Mental Health?

Mental health is one of the biggest killers on the planet, with suicide being the biggest cause of death in men under 40. There are many medical approaches to helping tackle mental health problems, but one of the most effective is one of the easiest to implement – exercise. Science is about getting the same results most of the time. If you exercise regularly it will almost always improve your mental health, and this is why…

Exercise helps your brain protect you from mental health issues

If you visit your doctor to talk about depression, the first thing you’ll be asked is “you exercising regularly?” Doctors have acquired a reputation for being liberal with prescription anti-depressants, but all GP’s know that exercise promotes changes in the brain that fight depression.

Exercising often means your brain is better equipped to fight depression because it helps to boost neural growth. Neurons help to control your moods and studies have shown that people will low and slow neurons are susceptible to depression.

Scientists have long since established the connection between endorphins and depression. Endorphins are peptides that awaken your body’s opiate receptors and lower your perception of physical and mental pain – the lower your level of endorphins the lower your mood. Exercise releases endorphins, making you feel good and more at ease.  

Having an exercise schedule adds order to your life

Chaos can have a very detrimental effect on your mental health. When there’s no order you feel as though you aren’t in control, which can increase your levels of stress and anxiety. By adding an exercise schedule to your life you can regain control by bringing stability to your life.

A close friend of mine suffers from stress, anxiety, and depression. My friend visited a GP and they recommended he did two things to help his state of mind. Firstly, he suggested he begin making lists, so that he could record his achievements. Secondly, he advised creating and sticking to an exercise regime. My friend took the advice of his GP and his mental health is much improved.

Exercise doesn’t only help your state of mind by bringing order to your life. A schedule that you stick to gives you a regular source of self-affirmation by achieving goals. While self-affirmation doesn’t solve mental health issues, it gives you the strength, belief, and encouragement to work at fixing them.

Access your body’s natural Prozac by exercising regularly

Serotonin has been called your bodies natural Prozac because it helps to tackle anxiety, control your moods, and make you happier. Many studies have shown that exercising regularly is one of the best ways to increase the production and release of serotonin in your body – exercise makes you happier.

Aerobic exercises are the best for boosting your body’s serotonin levels. Some of the best aerobic exercises are cycling, swimming, running, and yoga – anything that works your oxygen levels.

While exercise increases your serotonin levels, some commentators have claimed that exercising too much can have the wrong effect on your body. People have argued that forcing yourself to exercise counters its mood enhancing quality, this being because you feel it’s working against not with you.

Exercise gives you a reason to get out of your house

Ideas about people with mental health problems being unwilling to get out of bed are neither helpful or true. Society has reached a stage where people are aware of how painful and difficult it can be to go outside if your mind won’t allow it. While mental health issues are a real and potent enemy to leaving your home, doing it has lots of benefits. Exercise gives you a reason to get out of your house.

Being outside gives you access to natural sunshine. Light is one of the greatest tools against depression, stress, and anxiety – it’s not without reason that Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a mental health condition that millions suffer from. Sunlight increases serotonin levels and people often use SAD lamps to help mimic the effects of natural light. Exercising outside means you can boost your serotonin levels, helping to make you happier.

Exercising outdoors means you are surrounded by oxygen – even if you open every window in your home, you still won’t get as much air as you do outside. Oxygen increases the amount of serotonin in your body, sharpens your mind, and helps improve your heart rate. Choosing to exercise outside not only gives you a reason to get out of the house, it gives you access to one of the most important medicines in live – clean air.


Mental health is a broad church that covers a vast range of areas. Alongside therapists, councillors, and doctors, exercise recognised as one of the most important ways to support your mental health. When you visit your GP to talk about your mental health they may prescribe you a course of medication. What you can be sure of when you speak to a practitioner about your mental health is that they’ll ask if you’re exercising regularly.

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