Research suggests that physical activity helps both in protecting against developing anxiety and depression but also in reducing symptoms of both mental disorders. As little as two resistance training sessions a week improved anxiety symptoms in research groups. Although more extensive research is needed, this is a good sign that physical activity can help reduce your symptoms and mental fatigue.
This research was focused on strength and resistance training. Strength training helps to strengthen muscle and burn fat, but it’s also proven to have a positive effect on our mood. Exercising of all types is known to benefit and improve our mood, but resistance training has specifically been studied to improve mental health and symptoms of anxiety and depression.
The main reasons why exercising helps your mental health is that is balances your hormones. One theory, called the monoamine hypothesis, states that exercise increases serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine that are usually suppressed by depression and anxiety. Exercise is also being researched for its effects on GABA, which reduces anxiety and stress by reducing neuronal excitability.
The positive effects of exercise are not limited to depression and anxiety either. Moderate exercise can also help improve executive functions like memory, organization, impulse control, and prioritization for those with ADHD. Another positive effect is on PTSD, which can benefit from the improvement on depression, anxiety, and sleep issues that come with the disorder.
In addition to improving your mood through chemical balances, physical activity has other ways of improving your mental health. For example, consistent exercise can help give your life definition and purpose. Planning out physical goals that are achievable can help increase your mental strength and willpower.
Consistent exercise can help to improve your self-esteem and confidence. When you work at a consistent pace for a decent period of time, you’ll see a difference in your overall body image which can help your mental health and self-confidence. This is especially important in younger pre-teens who are at a high risk for developing mental health disorders.
Good, quality sleep is essential to your physical and mental health. Exercise has been shown to help improve sleep quality by increasing slow-wave sleep to process both emotional and functional information. Deep sleep also releases growth hormones that help stimulate muscle growth and fat burning.
Although just two 30-minute workout sessions can see some improvement in your mental health, the most benefits were seen after three to five 45-minute active sessions. One hour a week is enough to help prevent future depression and anxiety.
The benefits of exercise on mental health can be seen almost immediately after working out. This is due to the balancing of hormones that affect your mood. However, you will also see long term effects on cognitive abilities and overall mood.