Exercise vs Chocolate: a stand-off in the fight for happiness
Have you ever wondered why exercise is so important for your health?
A new cure for depression?
Let’s consider our mental health. Have you ever experienced anxiety, schizophrenia, depression, trauma or ADHD? These are some of the most common mental illnesses which we come across today. Constant rushing around and dealing with the problems of everyday life may make you feel overwrought or depressed. Suffering from insomnia, low sex-drive, having mood swings or panic attacks? These symptoms can lead you to ask for professional advice. At this point people often fall back on medication. And the vicious cycle begins…but what if exercise could help?
Let’s talk about endorphins
Everyone’s heard that chocolate boosts your ‘happiness hormone’ levels. But did you realise that exercising does the same job? It’s a powerful and natural weapon against depression– a problem for many people. What is more, it doesn’t only have a short-term effect, as in the case of chocolate.
Research is very promising. It’s believed that exercise has very similar mood-enhancement effects to antidepressants for patients with major depressive disorder (Psychosomatic Medicine, 2007). Furthermore it can prevent relapses as well, without any side effects.
You make my heart race
Imagine the scenario; you are walking through darkness and suddenly a rabid dog starts chasing you. How does your body react then? Fast breathing, racing heart, excessive sweating? It’s a physiological response caused by hormones such as adrenaline, norepinephrine, cortisol and dopamine.
Now imagine you on the treadmill, at the body pump class or climbing up to the 6th floor with shopping bags. Our body reacts pretty much in the same way, because of the hormones mentioned before, although the trigger is completely different. But here’s the tricky part; we don’t want to keep our cortisol at a high level when we exercise as it may lead to adrenal fatigue. Our goal is to prevent adrenal fatigue. That’s why it’s very important not to over-exercise so your body still produces these ‘stress hormones’, but without over production.
What does it have in common with mental health? People prone to anxiety are more likely to react with fear and panic during the fight-or-flight response. Exercise can allow our mind and body to adapt to stressful situations.
Having difficulty with a hyperactive child?
ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is more and more frequent, especially among children. This might be very tough both for parents and their kids. They may feel hopeless and bone-tired. And here’s the simple solution- exercising! It’s a perfect way to improve children’s’ ability to focus and retain attention. Why?
During training our body produces lots of hormones, including dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin. The same that are used in the treatment of ADHD. So before asking a doctor for prescription medicine, maybe it’s a good idea to enroll your child for karate or dancing classes first.
Have we found a new nostrum?
Physical activity improves the body and mental health in many areas. Aside from what I’ve mentioned before, there are other more positive effects of working out:
Prevents degeneration of the hippocampus (part of the brain that is responsible for memory and learning skills)
- Creates new brain cells
- Supports recover from addiction – when dopamine level increases, the brain’s pleasure centre – nucleus accumbens (more info here) is satisfied and reduces addictive cravings
- Works like natural ‘sleeping pill’
- Increases the energy level through the day
- Helps in gaining self-confidence and self-esteem
- Boosts your creativity
- Helps support a healthy sex life
So what are you waiting for?
There’re still many questions to be answered. Which form of exercise appears to be highly advantageous for the mental health? How long should we work out to see results? After what period of time can we notice any significant difference? Are there any other factors, like gender or family history, which may intensify or inhibit the process? And finally, whether exercise works more effective in conjunction with other therapies?
Research is still ongoing, but one thing is certain, physical activity has a great impact on our mentality. So don’t hesitate and dig out your pair of sneakers from the closet. Your mind and body would be grateful for that!
Here’s 5 tips to get you started:
- Find activities which you enjoy doing. Yoga, squash, water aerobics, roller skating, Zumba classes or basketball, there are plenty of things to choose from.
- Plan your week in advance, so that you can have enough time to work out without a rush and feeling stressed.
- Ask your friend to keep you company. The more the merrier as you’ll motivate and inspire each other.
- Remember to eat a healthy and balanced diet (regular meals, plenty of vegetables, foods rich in protein and good fatty acids and lots of water)
- Exercise wisely, don’t over-exercise, especially if you’re a beginner or after you’ve taken a long break. Remember, step by step and success will come!
Kasia is a guest blogger at EatLiveLovefood. She took a year off from university before doing her Masters at Dietetics in Krakow. During this gap year she is gaining practical experience in how a nutritional works in real life. She’s keen on promoting healthy lifestyles, with a special interest in sports nutrition and exercise. She hopes to continue learning a lot about how food and exercise can influence our minds and bodies.