runningAs a mental health therapist for over 20 years, I can assure you that exercise enhances the body’s ability to respond to stress, thus improving mental health by helping the brain cope better with stress, anxiety and depression.  Evidence suggests that physically active people have lower rates of anxiety and depression than sedentary people. The more sedentary you get, the less efficient you are in responding to stress.

Exercise essentially burns away the chemicals like cortisol and norepinephrine that cause stress. At the same time, vigorous exercise releases endorphins into the system. Endorphins are morphine-like hormones that are responsible for the feeling of elation, or well being that distance runners get from running. Other chemicals like dopamine and serotonin are also released in the brain during exercise. Together, these give a feeling of safety and security that contributes to off-setting some of the “internal” causes of stress, such as uncertainty, pessimism and negative self-talk.

To benefit from exercise, it needs to be regular. Exercise needs to be part of a daily routine. Instead of working during lunch, why not take the time to go for a brisk walk, a run or work out at a gym? Exercise will reduce stress and reducing stress can increase productivity.

Since exercise reduces stress chemically, it can also have a meditative effect during sustained cardiovascular workouts. Biologically, exercise seems to give the body a chance to deal with stress. It forces the body’s physiological systems to communicate much more closely than usual. Running on the open road or treadmill can relax and clear the mind. Clearing the mind allows you to have a fresh approach to perplexing and stressful problems.

Regular exercise also impacts on the way you feel about yourself. For example, if clothes fit comfortably and your body is toned due to regular exercise, you feel good about yourself. If you feel good about yourself, your self confidence is given a boost and stress due to feelings of inadequacy is reduced as a result. If you exercise with a group of people, it can offer you more social contacts and a support network. It will not only make you healthier, but regular exercise will also cut down on stress, anxiety, depression and their associated symptoms. So get moving and improve your mental health.

Carol Gooch, MS, LPC-S, LCDC, LMFT, is a columnist for the Montgomery County Healthy Living Alliance and she is the Director of Business Development for Aspire Hospital at 2006 South Loop 336 West, Suite 500, Conroe, TX 77304. Aspire Hospital has diagnostic imaging and a behavioral health hospital in Conroe, oncology services in The Woodlands, sleep diagnostics, diagnostic imaging and physical therapy in Huntsville. Carol is also the Founder & Executive Director of the Montgomery County Association of Business Women.