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Try This Free Mood Booster: Exercise!

exercise, workout, recovery, treatmentTo make more progress in your sobriety journey, it’s essential to fill your recovery toolbox with various techniques that contribute to your well-being. You already know that consistent exercise is one of the key factors to maintain physical health—but how much do you know about the mental and emotional benefits? Let’s take a closer look.

What the Research Says

This topic continues to fascinate medical professionals as more evidence comes to light about how regular movement impacts the brain. Here are some examples.

Harvard Medical School outlined results from a 2019 depression study that examined the connection between exercise and mood. “What we don’t know for sure is whether being physically active can improve emotional well-being, or if we simply move less when we feel sad or depressed,” writes Karmel Choi, a clinical and research fellow at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

By using a specific movement tracking, the study revealed that individuals who were more active had a “significantly lower risk for major depressive disorder” and, Choi notes, “any kind of movement can add up to keep depression at bay.” This means you don’t have to run a marathon to feel better—a walk, jog, or living room dance session for as little as 15 minutes often does the trick.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America notes that research suggests exercise “may improve mental health by helping the brain cope better with stress. In one study, researchers found that those who got regular vigorous exercise were 25 percent less likely to develop depression or an anxiety disorder over the next five years.”

The Global Health and Fitness Association points to a report which highlights evidence that “aerobic exercise can lower psychiatric symptoms and improve cognition in people with schizophrenia type disorders. A study including 39 trials found that physical activity interventions had a significant effect on lower depression symptoms and schizophrenia symptoms. Interventions also improved quality of life in people with mental illness.”

Your Brain on Exercise

So why does exercise improve our mood? There are various reasons, most of them neurological, but some behavioral as well.

  • Physical activity such as exercise, sex, and—surprisingly!—deep belly laughs produce endorphins—chemicals in the brain and nervous system that act as natural painkillers. Your body produces more than 20 types of them, and they help regulate numerous functions from mood to sleep quality.
  • Regular movement also increases levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine:
    • Serotonin is a natural mood booster.
    • Dopamine forms a loop of motivation, reward, and reinforcement.
    • Norepinephrine, a hormone, pairs with serotonin to increase alertness and energy and ward off depressive episodes.
  • Another study by Harvard researchers explains that exercise also improves brain function. “In people who are depressed, neuroscientists have noticed that the hippocampus in the brain—the region that helps regulate mood—is smaller. Exercise supports nerve cell growth in the hippocampus, improving nerve cell connections, which helps relieve depression.”
  • Focusing on exercise, especially outdoors, frequently reduces negative thought cycles and eases worry and rumination.
  • Commitment to an exercise routine improves impulse control and enhances self-esteem, which help build better coping strategies during times of stress.

The Cleveland Clinic explains that regular movement also stimulates your vagus nerve (the longest cranial nerve in the body), which encourages the parasympathetic nervous system to activate a more relaxing response. By not being in “fight or flight” mode all the time, you’re less stressed, which helps improve mood. The Mayo Clinic also indicates that vagus nerve stimulation has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for people with chronic depression who have trouble responding to conventional treatments.

Mood-Boosting Exercises

As mentioned above, 15 minutes of movement daily is a great start and provides immediate stress relief and a more positive outlook. However, the general recommendation for long-term mental and emotional benefits is approximately 150 minutes a week, or 30 minutes a day.

Your choice of exercise can be anything that brings you joy and encourages you to stick with a program. Here are some suggestions:

  • Yoga is supported by many health professionals to reduce anxiety, depression, and symptoms of PTSD and other traumatic events.
  • All types of cardiovascular and aerobic exercise amp up the release of those essential mood-boosting neurotransmitters. From walking and swimming to cycling and dancing, get your heart rate up for a little while and you’ll feel better.
  • Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese practice that combines gentle movement with focused breath, enhancing the release of feel-good brain chemicals and stagnant energy throughout the body.

The Holistic Recovery Approach at Fair Oaks

Just as exercise supports recovery, it can also be one of many techniques you use to reinforce your mental and emotional health for a lifetime. The professionals at Fair Oaks in Sacramento will create a continuum of care plan that includes whatever methods not only speak to your individual goals, but also evolve with your continued progress. Ask us how we can help you achieve optimum wellness.

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For more information about programs offered at Fair Oaks Recovery Center, including our intensive outpatient program in Sacramento, please call us today at (888) 989-9690.