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Exercise and Mental Health: How much is too much?

Keep reading to find out how to have a balanced exercise routine that supports you mentally and physically.

We all know that regular exercise is one of the best things you can do support your physical health. Countless research studies have documented the health benefits of exercise, ranging from increased strength and energy to decreased risk of diabetes and even all-cause-mortality.

In my practice, I talk about exercise a lot as it relates to mental health. Exercise is my number one recommendation when it comes to boosting your mood, increasing energy, and managing stress. Studies have even found that exercise may be just as effective as anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications in treating and preventing mild-to-moderate depression and anxiety (1).

When it comes to the mental health benefits of exercise, it’s important to keep in mind that more exercise doesn’t always mean more benefits. Overexercising can actually make your mental and physical health worse, especially if you suffer with anxiety, depression, disordered eating/eating disorders, poor body image, and hormone imbalances.

So how much is too much when it comes to exercise? And how can you reap the benefits of exercise for mental health without overdoing it? Keep reading to learn how to support your mental health with a balanced exercise routine.

The Science Behind Exercise and Mental Health

First let’s start with why exercise is so important for mental health. If you struggle with concentrating, depression, anxiety, stress, and/or addiction there are a ton of science-backed reasons why you should start exercising to support your mental health.

01 – IMPROVES MEMORY AND LEARNING

Several studies in animals and humans have found that exercise increases the number of new neurons in the brain, a process known as neurogenesis.

Physical activity increases brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a growth factor that stimulates neuron growth and protects against neuron degeneration. Neurogenesis has been found to increase brain volume and improve learning and memory.

Declining neurogenesis may also be implicated in the development of certain mental illnesses, including Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, and depression.

02 – ACTS AS A NATURAL ANTIDEPRESSANT

Scientists have yet to understand the specific causes of depression, but have identified several neurotransmitters that are involved in the development of the of the disease.

Serotonin is a powerful neurotransmitter that is targeted in many antidepressant medications, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs. Serotonin helps us feel motivated and increases our willpower and mood.

Exercise and movement in general, increases the release of serotonin, which has a natural antidepressant effect on the brain. Serotonin also has the added bonus of stimulating the production of BDNF and neurogenesis!

03 – INCREASES CONCENTRATION

Deep thinking and concentration are functions of the brain’s norepinephrine system. Norepinephrine is a neurotransmitter involved in the body’s stress response that has several functions, including enhancing concentration and focus.

Some antidepressant medications also target the norepinephrine system. Exercise increases the release of norepinephrine, especially intense physical activity, helping you to feel focused and productive.

04 – REDUCES PAIN + ANXIETY

Ever wonder where the term “runner’s high” comes from? Physical activity actually causes your brain to release the same neurotransmitters that are responsible for the “high” sensation felt with opiate and marijuana use.

These neurotransmitters are called endorphins, which have the powerful effect of reducing pain and relieving anxiety. Endorphin release also increases with the intensity of exercise, so the more you sweat the happier (or higher) you feel.

This is also one of the reasons why it can be hard to know when you are overexercising. Your endorphins can mask some of the symptoms of pushing your body too hard, but more on this soon…

Physical activity also activates the endocannabinoid system, further reducing pain sensitivity and providing an improved sense of well-being.

05 – HELPS TO MANAGE ANXIETY

Several studies have found that exercise can help decrease your sensitivity to anxiety. In other words, people who exercise regularly are less likely to experience anxiety in moments of perceived stress. Exercise stimulates the stress response in a similar way that anxiety does – increased heart rate, sweating, increased breathing rate.

Researchers theorize that exposing someone with high anxiety sensitivity to the physiological symptoms they fear, such as rapid heartbeat, in the context of physical exercise increases their tolerance for such symptoms.

06 – HELPS WITH ADDICTION

Dopamine is the brain’s primary neurotransmitter involved in addiction. The brain releases dopamine in response to a pleasurable stimulus. Addictive substances, foods, and behaviors can cause a quick and intense release of dopamine into the brain.

Repeated exposure to that substance, food, or behavior can eventually cause a physiological addiction.

Studies have found that just 10 minutes of physical activity can significantly alter dopamine circuits and increase your willpower to avoid addictive substances, foods, and behaviors.

Bottom Line

Regular exercise supports mental health and wellbeing in several different ways, including boosting your mood, decreasing anxiety, improving focus, memory and learning, and helping with addiction.

How to Find a Balanced Exercise Routine

Even though exercise is one of the best ways to manage your mental health, you can overdo it and actually make your mental health worse!

A new research study published in The Lancet Psychiatry looked at data from 1.2 million people in the US to learn more about which types and how much exercise has the most benefits for mental health.

The study found that team-oriented sports, cycling, and aerobic exercise for 30 – 60 minutes, 3 – 5 times a week had the most benefits for mental health. People who practiced this exercise routine reported having fewer days of poor mental health, especially those who were diagnosed with depression.

The study also found that any type of physical activity, including chores around the house, walking, gardening, etc. had a positive impact on mental health. Overall, people who exercised regularly had a 43% decrease in poor mental health days per month.

Recommended Reading: Tips and Tricks for Consistent Exercise

Interestingly, the study also found that exercising more than 23 times a month or for longer than 1.5 hours was associated with worse mental health.

It’s important to keep in mind that, like most things in wellness, there is no one size fits all routine for exercise and it takes experimenting and some trial and error to find out the best plan for you.

That being said, there are some common symptoms of overexercising that you should look out for. Especially if you suffer from anxiety, depression, disordered eating/eating disorders, body image issues, and hormone imbalances.

  • Persistent aches and pains in your muscles and/or joints – it’s normal to feel sore 24 – 48 hours after a workout, but if your muscles and joints hurt all the time this is a sign you are working your body too hard and not getting enough time for rest and recovery.

  • Feeling light-headed or dizzy on workout days – this is a classic sign of overexercising and also under eating. Your blood sugar or blood pressure might be dropping too low because you are not getting enough carbohydrate or electrolytes, respectively. Bottom line – if you want do more intense exercise, you have to fuel and hydrate appropriately.

  • Frequent headaches on workout days – this is another sign you might be overexercising, under eating, not hydrating enough and/or not sleeping enough to support a more intense workout routine.

  • Having difficulty getting through a workout – While it’s true that pushing your limits at the gym can help you get stronger and build more muscle. It’s also true that pushing yourself too hard can cause more stress on the body. If you can’t make it through a workout, then try scaling back the intensity and build your way up to harder workouts as you get stronger. You should feel energized, not chronically fatigued when exercising.

  • Difficulty breathing – This could be a sign of iron deficiency anemia or other conditions that may limit your ability to get enough oxygen (ex. sleep apnea). Make sure you correct these deficiencies before you do intense cardio.

  • Prioritizing workouts over sleep – Sleep is an essential component of recovery. If you aren’t getting a good night’s sleep you should limit intense physical activity and opt for more gentle movement like walking, stretching, strength training, yoga, or pilates.

  • Repeat injuries and/or sickness – Overexercising can cause immunosuppression, making you more prone to getting sick. Constant wear and tear on your muscles, bones, and ligaments without adequate rest and recovery also makes you more prone to injury.

  • Changes in your menstrual cycle and/or libido – Amenorrhea and dysmenorrhea are two of the biggest signs that you are working your body too hard. If you stop getting your period or your period starts to come less often, this is a sign that exercise is impacting your hormones. Overexercising can also cause inflammation that decreases your libido.

  • Weight gain – Overexercise can trigger intense hunger, which can lead to overeating and even binge eating. Too much exercise stimulates inflammation that decreases thyroid function and increases stress hormones, both of which can cause weight gain.

You can read more about the science behind overexercise in this great article by Laura Schoenfeld, RD: Are you overtraining? 9 Important signs that you need to exercise less.

Bottom Line

Exercise should be used as a tool to support your physical and mental health, and not as a way to punish your body. You should feel energized and strong after a workout, not tired and weak. The goal is to train smarter, not harder and find a balanced exercise routine that works for your body, mind, and lifestyle.

 

SOURCE

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Holistic/Alternative/Natural Therapy to melt your stress and feel relaxed and re-energized!

Clear your negative energy & toxicity by simple Mind Detox. Liberate yourself & Empower yourself, no matter what you been through Holding resentment or negative energy you sabotage your own Growth. It is necessary to recognize Anxiety & Depression as soon as possible, to take proper steps to get out of them. Don’t hide or live with them. Don’t sulk inside. Be wise and bold enough to look for solutions. They are destructive for both mental and physical health. Help yourself and your loved one.

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7 Common Causes Of Anxiety & Depression

HERE ARE 7 COMMON LIFESTYLE CAUSES OF DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY:

1. SUBSTANCE ABUSE

People abuse substances such as recreational drugs and alcohol for a number of reasons. Substance abuse is a habit that may form at any time, including childhood and teenage years.

Drugs and alcohol “rewire” the brain’s neurochemistry; disrupting normal communication between neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are the brain and body’s “communication chemicals” that control every physical and psychological experience.

Individuals susceptible to depression and anxiety who engage in drug use are more likely to develop mental illness.

2. OVERWORKING

Becoming exhausted because of too much of a heavy workload causes stress reactions within the body. Most people today concede that they’re at least moderately impacted by stress caused from work.

When the brain is exposed to chronic stress, it’s delicate chemical balance is interrupted. Again, those individuals prone to anxiety and depression for whatever reason – and are exposed to long-term stress – are prone to anxiety and depression.

3. GRIEF AND TRAUMA

A common talking point in the news is the prevalence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in military members. Being a witness or victim of violence of any kind can trigger a biological reaction that evolves into full-blown anxiety and depression.

Feelings of grief following the death of a loved one or friend, though uncomfortable, can serve as a good healer. However, prolonged grief in susceptible demographics can cause mental health issues.

4. HEALTH CONDITIONS

People diagnosed with untreatable health conditions may be at an increased risk of becoming depressed. Age-related illnesses or diagnoses of terminable condition such as Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease, or cancer often induce feelings of panic and helplessness; of course, prolonged exposure to these feelings can manifest into anxiety and depression.

It is also worth mentioning that the changes of an anxiety/depression diagnosis increases with age, per WebMD.

5. SUDDEN AND STRESSFUL CHANGES

During the infamous Wall Street Crash of 1929, which led to the loss of billions of dollars and laid the foundation for the Great Depression, 23,000 people committed suicide – at the time, the highest number of suicides ever in one year.

While the number of people who killed themselves due to anxiety and depression cannot be ascertained; it is fair to assume that the mental illness had played a role.

stress

6. POOR SELF-IMAGE

Finding accurate statistics and facts people with low self-image (self-esteem) is quite difficult. Across sources, a few common outliers:

– Females are more likely than males to have self-esteem issues

– People with self-esteem problems are more likely to engage in behaviors considered a health risk (smoking, alcohol and substance abuse, poor diet)

– There is a correlation between negative self-image and suicide

A continually negative picture of oneself can lead to obsessive thought patterns; about appearance, money, reputation, and so on. In a worst case scenario, the brain’s neurochemistry is altered, producing depressive and anxious symptoms or conditions.

7. ISOLATION OR REJECTION

As human beings are naturally social creatures, we require social interaction to function properly. Human beings also long for intimacy; another person to care for, love, and support them.

Isolation, voluntary or involuntary separation from other human beings; and rejection, refusal of others to accept or consider you as part of something, are counterintuitive to the brain’s innate social cognitive functions. As a result, the brain adopts opposing thought processes, and forms neural networks, that disturb it’s natural chemistry.

In short, isolation and/or rejection can lead to a neurochemical imbalance that manifests into anxiety and depression.

Finally…

Should you or someone you know potentially suffer from an anxiety or depression-related illness, there are a variety of effective treatment options available.

Therapists, support groups, medical professionals, and many others are there to help resolve the issue.

In other words, you are not alone. Don’t be afraid to get help!

REFERENCES:
ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA. (2016). SUBSTANCE ABUSE DISORDERS. RETRIEVED MARCH 23, 2017, FROM HTTPS://WWW.ADAA.ORG/UNDERSTANDING-ANXIETY/RELATED-ILLNESSES/SUBSTANCE-ABUSE
BABBEL, S., PH.D. M.F.T., (2016, MARCH 11). REJECTION HANGOVER: ABANDONMENT ANXIETY. RETRIEVED MARCH 23, 2017, FROM HTTPS://WWW.PSYCHOLOGYTODAY.COM/BLOG/SOMATIC-PSYCHOLOGY/201603/REJECTION-HANGOVER-ABANDONMENT-ANXIETY
NEMADE, R. PH.D., STAATS-REISS, N. PH.D., DOMBECK, M. PH.D., (2007, SEPTEMBER 19). LIFESTYLE FACTORS AND ENVIRONMENTAL CAUSES OF MAJOR DEPRESSION. RETRIEVED MARCH 23, 2017, FROM HTTPS://WWW.MENTALHELP.NET/ARTICLES/LIFESTYLE-FACTORS-AND-ENVIRONMENTAL-CAUSES-OF-MAJOR-DEPRESSION/
TRUEMAN, C.N., (2016, AUGUST 16). WALL STREET CRASH OF 1929 AND ITS AFTERMATH. RETRIEVED MARCH 23, 2017, FROM HTTP://WWW.HISTORYLEARNINGSITE.CO.UK/MODERN-WORLD-HISTORY-1918-TO-1980/AMERICA-1918-1939/WALL-STREET-CRASH-OF-1929-AND-ITS-AFTERMATH/
WEBMD. (2017). SUBSTANCE ABUSE AND ADDICTION. RETRIEVED MARCH 23, 2017, FROM HTTP://WWW.WEBMD.COM/MENTAL-HEALTH/ADDICTION/DEFAULT.HTM
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As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, I have been working with individuals, couples and families for over twenty years. My goal is to help you enhance your life, improve your overall functioning and have a better understanding on how to care for yourself.

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