Why exercise makes us feel good.....
We all know exercise is good for our physical health and has many benefits, but I am really interested in why it makes us feel good and how it can benefit our mental health too.
I have just finished Red January, raising money for the charity Mind by getting active every day. Now I have a dog I am out walking her most days, but this is gentler exercise so I then try and do a yoga class twice a week and, to work on my strength, I do a box fit class. But I still haven’t been feeling as fit as I would like so I have also added in an indoor cycle (that I have at home) 3 or 4 times a week.
And these are the benefits I have been feeling from being active every day, even when feeling tired and not like exercising, actually doing it makes me feel so much better afterwards. I have found it an excellent way to de-stress at the end of the day and exercise has helped me sleep better. If I feel like I have had a really good workout the quality of my sleep is also much better. I also find emotionally that doing exercise makes me feel less irritable and can lift a low mood. In addition it has helped with my pre-menstrual symptoms, that could sometimes make me feel more on edge and irritable. So, all in all I have been feeling so much better making sure that I get in some workouts that raise my heart rate and build up a sweat.
So, what is the science behind exercise being the feel-good factor? And what does the research say about exercise and the benefits for mental health.
As exercise helps release neurochemicals and neurotransmitters from the brain which are then pumped around the body in the blood aided further by exercise. Some of these neurochemicals are called endorphins which are produced in the brain and are considered to be the body’s natural “painkillers”, these are what make us feel good and can give you that feeling of euphoria. Endorphins also effect the reward centre of our brain, which adds to our feelings of wellbeing.
The stress reduction aspects of exercise are linked to the way the body responds to stressors through higher levels of serotonin and noradrenaline in the blood and body. Higher levels of these neurotransmitters are linked to improving depression and anxiety which is why exercise can make you feel good.
Exercise can also help reduce anxiety in that it releases another stress reducing neurotransmitter called GABA, which is why you can feel more focused and less irritable. In addition exercise can help focus and memory by increasing levels of BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotropic Factor), which can build healthier nerve cells improving different aspects of cognition.
Now I have got into a routine of doing more aerobic exercise and have noticed the difference myself, I hope that it has become more of a habit that I will keep up. I know there will be days I don’t feel like doing it, but just reminding myself that I feel so much better afterwards hopefully will keep my motivation going! I recommend giving it a go – set yourself a challenge like Red January or a goal to work towards and see how good it can make you feel!