A Few Words about Mental Health and Physical Exercise with a strong focus on endorphins as well as tips and tools to get those endorphins going asap.
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Music by Skilsel
Photo by Boris Kuznetz
Hello and welcome to Bodyholic with Di, episode #13. My name is Di Katz Shachar and I am a public health promoter. I attained my MPH from Tel Aviv University, on the research track. I am a fitness trainer with over 17 years of experience and specializations in corrective exercise, women's fitness and Pilates. I am also the founder and trainer of Bodyholic, the global health and fitness platform and community and author of Rip It Up. For Good. This Podcast is a part of my effort and mission as a public health professional because I believe that real science based information and knowledge is power and my job in this life is to empower YOU.
I want you to have high and sustained energy throughout the day and I want you to feel better than you have ever felt, before, during and after your workouts, in and out of your clothes, and not only physically but mentally and emotionally.
In today’s episode we’re going to explore the relationship between our physical and mental health and how physical activity and exercise can reduce anxiety and depression with the focus on endorphins. I am first going to get into the physiology of it and then we will get into the practical tools and tips so that we can get started or just get a motivation for today and my hope is that it will last longer. I would just like to firstly emphasize that while working out can be a powerful tool for improving mental health, it's important to remember that it is not at all substitute for professional treatment for depression or anxiety and if you are struggling with symptoms of depression or anxiety, please seek the help of a qualified mental health professional, it is crucial.
Now There are a whole bunch of mechanistic studies that put the spot light on the following molecules: kynurenine, brain-derived neurotrophic factor, aka BDNF, a type of growth factor – that promotes growth of new neurons; and of the body's opioid and endocannabinoid organizations, which work on pain control and mood regulation. We will get into all of this on another episode later this month, for now let’s stay focused on the more basic level of the correlation between exercise and mental health.
Depression and anxiety disorders are becoming increasingly prevalent mental health issues that affect millions of people worldwide. So when I say the “symptoms” of depression and anxiety, I am talking about symptoms that can include continuous feelings of sadness, low mood, loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, and excessive worry or fear.
Now, there are many treatment options available for depression and anxiety, including psychotherapy and medication, research has shown that physical activity can be an effective way to alleviate symptoms and improve overall well-being.
Let’s get into endorphins. The word “endorphin” comes from “endogenous” (which means produced by your body) and “morphine” (which means pain relief). Endorphins are natural chemicals that the body produces due to specific stimuli like exercise, pain, or stress. Basically, endorphins act as natural painkillers - they reduce feelings of pain and increase and promote feelings of well-being. So the very cool thing is that endorphins also have the power to reduce feelings of anxiety and depression, and promote a sense of relaxation. That’s why they’re sometimes referred to as the "feel-good" chemicals. When we engage in physical activity, our bodies release endorphins, - there you have it, you can create awesome natural mood-boosters just by moving.
What endorphins do essentially is block pain receptors and help stimulate dopamine release, exercise can also help boost your mood. For example, exercise has been shown to help with not only depression and anxiety but also apathy, and other non-motor symptoms. When you move your body, the endorphins and dopamine released can promote that rewarding, euphoric feeling that leads you to probably repeat the behavior. Exercise can even help ward off loneliness: engaging in group fitness activities adds a social component, which in itself also releases endorphins.
So when we move, we release endorphins and the thing is Physical activity also increases blood flow and oxygen to the brain, which can improve cognitive function and reduce feelings of fatigue. And since we are on the blood flow topic, Exercise increases blood flow AND oxygen to the brain, which can promote the growth of new brain cells and improve neural connectivity. And it is not all about endorphins only, working out also stimulates the production of chemicals like dopamine and norepinephrine, which are important neurotransmitters involved in focus and attention.
Because exercise can also help to reduce stress and anxiety, which can interfere with concentration and cognitive performance it provides a natural way to release tension and clear the mind, which in turn improves focus and concentration.
We also have to remember that the benefits of exercise for concentration may not actually be immediate, and regular, consistent, physical activity is necessary to see lasting improvements. However, incorporating exercise into your daily routine can be a simple and effective way to boost cognitive function and improve overall well-being.
Physical activity can provide a sense of accomplishment and self-efficacy, which can help to counter feelings of hopelessness and helplessness that are often associated with depression and anxiety. Exercise can also help to distract us from negative thoughts and rumination, and provide an opportunity for social connection and support.
So, any type of physical activity can be beneficial, research suggests that moderate-intensity aerobic exercise is most effective in reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety. This includes activities such as brisk walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, or dancing. Quick note though - Resistance training, such as weight lifting or bodyweight exercises, can also be beneficial for improving mood and reducing anxiety, although the evidence is not as strong as for aerobic exercise.
I want to drop some tips on how to incorporate physical activity into our daily lives, because I know how busy we can get and I also am aware of the fact that incorporating workouts into our daily life might actually just feel daunting.
After training hundreds of people, I see over and over again that the most important thing is to find an activity that you enjoy and that you can realistically fit into your schedule. And by the way, it is important to start slowly and gradually increase your activity level to avoid injury or burnout.
One way you can incorporate exercise into your daily routine is to take a walk during your lunch break or after dinner. You could also try taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or parking farther away from your destination to get some extra steps in. You can also hold phone call meetings and in person meetings, whether professional, or social as walking meetings.
If you're having trouble getting hyped and motivated, consider enlisting a buddy or family member to workout with you or join a group fitness class. Finally, Setting goals and tracking your progress can also be helpful for staying motivated and seeing the benefits of physical activity over time.