How exercise can affect your mood
Woman after a run

Sometimes the urge to skip a gym session and stay at home is too strong. As the saying goes though, no pain, no gain -- and we're not just talking about weight loss, we could be missing out on a boost of energy.

The rush of endorphins

If you're in need of greater motivation to get moving, consider these fantastic benefits you're sure to feel post-exercise.

Mood boosters

According to Australian doctor Alexandra Rowell, endorphins have a natural mood-boosting effect because they "are thought to act on similar receptors to 'opioid' medications, producing an analgesic effect and a feeling of euphoria".

The endogenous nature of endorphins (produced from within the body itself) means the happy high you get after exercise can also provide a natural form of pain relief.

Heat factor

Adrienne Gross, author of the article Exercise the body for fitness of the mind, published on the Mental Health Foundation website, says the internal heat produced by exercise can also have a relaxing effect on our mental wellbeing -- similar to the relaxation our bodies feel during a session at the sauna.

Distraction theory

Gross also puts forward the "distraction theory", which suggests exercise can be used to help ease some mental illnesses. "Swimming superstar Michael Phelps was diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) as a teenager, and found that swimming, as well as lacrosse and baseball, gave him a release for all his energy," writes Gross. "From the perspective of other mental illnesses, concentrating on getting a ball into a goal or trying to break a personal best means there's less room for negative thoughts to creep in, thus feeling less anxiety."

Helping depression

Many studies have shown that regular exercise can also prevent the likelihood of depression or reduce the effects for those who already suffer from depression. Australia's Black Dog Institute suggests that aerobic exercise (e.g. brisk walking, cycling or jogging) and resistance or strength training (e.g. weight-lifting) have found to be beneficial for depression.

"Research suggests that regular exercise may increase levels of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter involved in mood, sleep, libido, appetite, and other functions, and has been linked to depression," the Institute says.

In moderation

For the greatest benefits, a healthy dose of exercise is best -- this also means not overdoing it!

The National Physical Activity Guidelines for Australians recommends we do "at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most, preferably all, days". If 30 minutes straight seems like too much to do at once, consider breaking it up into 3 x 10-minute bursts throughout the day.

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Tags: depression mental health

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