When you exercise, your body releases chemicals called endorphins. These endorphins interact with the receptors in your brain that reduce your perception of pain. Endorphins also trigger a positive feeling in the body.
1 Natural Endorphins
It appears that exercise can improve our mood by actually altering our brain chemistry.
Exercise has been found to change the levels of a number of brain chemicals, including endorphins and serotonin. Endorphins are released by the body when we exercise to block any feelings of discomfort or pain. As well as blocking pain endorphins also appear to enhance pleasure and lift our mood.
Serotonin has a number of functions in the body including regulating sleep, libido appetite and mood. It is thought that exercise alters serotonin levels elevating one’s mood. Some studies have found exercise to be as effective as antidepressants for mild cases of depression.
2 Exercise is Medicine (EIM)
When we are stressed or anxious the body produces adrenalin as part of what is referred to as the “flight or fight” response. Adrenalin readies the body for action by elevating blood pressure and increasing the heart rate and breathing rate.
It makes sense then that one way to reduce adrenalin levels is to behave as nature intended by “fighting or flighting” in the form of exercise.
Exercise gets rid of excess adrenalin and reduces built up feelings of tension and stress. This is one reason why exercise is referred to as medicine.
Start slowly, you might think about taking steps instead of the lift at work. Tolerate the discomfort you feel when starting your exercise program. You may be breathless or sore in the muscles. These symptoms will improve as your lung capacity improves and your muscles get used to the exercise.
3 Self-esteem and body image
Exercise can improve a person’s fitness, strength and endurance. When our bodies feel fit and strong it makes us feel good about ourselves.
Regular exercise combined with healthy eating can help maintain a healthy weight range.
Similarly participating in different physical activities provides a great opportunity for people to learn a new skill and or improve one’s ability. Improving a previous time, number of laps completed, or weights lifted, for example creates a sense of achievement which can boost a persons self-esteem.
4 Being Social
Participating in a team sport or attending a regular class like yoga or aerobics is a great way to meet people. It has been shown that friendships are essential for happiness. Sharing goals with others (ie get fit, scoring goals) gives people a feeling of purpose and can help people stay motivated.
Exercise with a “Buddy”. Not only does this increase socialisation it encourages accountability. There is nothing more stimulating than when you are out walking when people acknowledge you.
It is thought that some of the positive effects of exercise seen in research studies may in fact be due to interaction with other people and feeling like part of a tribe.
5 Improves Sleep
Poor sleep can be detrimental to a person’s mood. Sleep deprivation is linked to irritability, mood swings, anxiety and memory loss.
It is thought that the rise and subsequent fall of body temperature when we exercise helps us to get to sleep. Exercise doesn’t just help us get to sleep it improves the quality of our sleep. We sleep deeper so therefore feel more rejuvenated. We are also less likely to wake up during the night.
The best time to exercise for sleep improvement is about 3-4 hours before going to bed.
Tips for choosing the best exercise
What you enjoy
It is much more difficult to experience a mood lift if you are not in sync with the exercise you have chosen. Similarly, people are more likely to continue with the exercise if they find it pleasurable.
People might find it helpful to reflect on what activities they enjoyed doing as a child.
There is some evidence to suggest that exercising outdoors lifts one’s mood more that exercising indoors. It may be beneficial, therefore, to incorporate some exercise options outdoors rather than for example only attending gym sessions or running on a treadmill in the living room.
If this is your only option, then it is your best choice.
Easy to get started
Activities that do not require too much mental energy are ideal. Not having to concentrate too much allows people to tune out.
Rhythmic and repetitive activities (eg swimming laps) are often good choices. Play your favourite music while you are exercising.
If you are out side exercising make sure you choose your times or run or walk with a buddy. Ensure if you are cycling you are well seen with reflective clothing and reflectors on your bicycle.
If you are starting on an exercise program, or haven’t exercised for a while, be sure to get a clearance form your Medical Practitioner. Consulting with a Personal Trainer or other professional is also beneficial to ensure you get the most benefit from your exercise regime.