Run to think clearly, dance to shake off anxiety and swim to calm nerves: How different exercises improve your mental health
- The type of exercise a person chooses to take part in can provide different boosts to their health
- Running can help a person think clearer and suppress negative thoughts, as it affects brain chemistry
- Meanwhile, an activity like yoga can help a person manage their stress or symptoms of conditions like PTSD
- The HHS recommends 150 minutes of activity each week, but how that is spent can give different results
From sweating on a run, to shaking it out in a dance class and scoring a goal in soccer, they all do wonders for the mind.
The physical effects of exercise are obvious by now, nizoral rite aid but the boosts to mental health can often be underestimated.
Studies show regular exercise can pull people from the depths of depression, boost their self-esteem and even reverse brain damage.
Americans are recommended by the Department of Health and Human Services to get between 150 to 300 minutes of physical activity each week. But the type of activity can have distinctively different benefits.
Someone who is suicidal may benefit more from playing a team sport that helps form strong social bonds and gives them a greater sense of purpose, experts say.
A run around the block or dance class can be a quick-fix for anxiety or negative thoughts, while a person with chronic stress or PTSD may want to consider yoga, which can help someone feel at ease in the long term.
Around 53million US adults live with a mental illness, with the most common being anxiety disorders and major depression. Yet more than 82million Americans aged six or older don’t engage in any exercise.
When you exercise, you activate your body’s natural reward system. Dopamine, endorphins and serotonin are all released, which lift your spirits.
Regular exercise will rewire the reward system, giving you higher circulating levels of dopamine and dopamine receptors over time.
Use DailyMail.com’s guide to find which exercise works best for you:
The type of exercise a person regularly takes part in can provide different boosts for their brain. Running can help clear a person’s mind and suppress negative though. Yoga is great for people who are stressed. Dancing can provide a boost to self-esteem and reduce feelings of anxiety. Swimming can help regulate a person’s brain state and team sports can even combat suicidal ideation, research finds.
How much exercise should I do?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults need 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week.
This could be water aerobics or a brisk walk.
It stresses that this doesn’t have to be done all at once — you could do 30 minutes a day during the week.
Or, you could do a weekly 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise.
This could be jogging or running, swimming laps, dancing or playing a team sport like basketball.
While yoga is classed as light-intensity, some sequences and poses, such as the Surya Namaskar, count as moderate to vigorous intensity.
One way to ensure mental rewards from exercise is the simple act of running.
Jogging circulates more blood to the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis (the part of your brain which responds to stress and anxiety) and enhances its function, in turn improving your mood.
Temporarily, you will be able to think more clearly and have better reactions to stressful situations.
Even after just 10 minutes, running causes a spike in electrical activity in important areas of the brain, which are key for processing emotions.
Research in 2018 by Western Michigan University found that running rapidly for half an hour leads to better ‘cortical flicker frequency’, which is linked to the ability to process information — something anxiety and depression make more difficult.
Further studies from Lithuanian Sports University and Nottingham Trent University found that alternating high intensity running with lower intensity enhances parts of ‘executive function’.
This includes our ability to command our attention, block out distractions and problem-solve, which can reduce feelings of agitation.
A 2016 study confirmed these findings when researchers at the University of Arizona compared brain activity in 11 keen runners with 11 non-runners.
They examined the brain function in its resting state, and found that as well as increased executive function, there is an overall dwindling of activity in the ‘default mode network’ – brain regions which are triggered when we are inactive or preoccupied.
The default mode network is the home of the mind’s inner monologue, which is often an unwelcome presence with depression.
Around eight in 10 runners agreed that running helps them clear their mind, a study of 14,000 regular runners by Asics during the pandemic found. And 78 per cent think running makes them feel more sane and in control.
When we get stressed or anxious, our breathing becomes quicker and more shallow. This can lead to hyperventilation and even cause a panic attack.
But swimming forces you to regulate breathing and makes sure you inhale enough air to prevent such attacks.
Inhaling and exhaling evenly whilst doing some front crawl activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is in charge of the body’s ‘rest and digest’ response.
In this state, the heart rate and blood pressure lowers due to dilated blood vessels, your digestion is stimulated and your body is able to relax.
Rhythmic breathing also expands the diaphragm, which massages your lymphatic system.
This encourages fluid in the system to help remove toxins from the body which negatively affect mental well-being and cognitive function.
The body releases 70 per cent of its toxins through breathing, so swimming is a great way to flush them out.
In a 2014 study, researchers in South Korea found that swimming has the power to reverse brain damage from stress by increasing the creation of new neurons in the brain.
They compared the brains of two groups of mice, with one group assigned to swimming five days per week over a period of eight weeks and the other one idle. The swimming group generated more neurons in their brain than the group who didn’t swim.
Dr Hana Patel, private GP and mental health coach in London, told DailyMail.com: ‘Regular swimming lowers blood pressure by reducing the hardening of the blood vessels, a primary factor that drives the increase in blood pressure with increasing age.
‘When we swim, all our senses are engaged – sight, sound, touch and smell, a time without screens and technology.’
She added: ‘Swimming alleviates stress and encourages relaxation and creativity as the feeling of water moving over our body creates a massage-like sensation.
‘It helps release pent-up tension and also makes us more mindful of our surroundings.’
Swimming can help a person relieve stress and activate their ‘rest and digest’ body state. It can even alleviate brain damage, studies have found (file photo)
Shaking it off Taylor Swift style is another way to access the merits of exercise, and the body of evidence linking dance to better mental health is growing.
Dr Emer MacSweeney, CEO and consultant neuro-radiologist at Re:Cognition Health, told DailyMail.com that people after the ultimate cognitive benefits should ‘consider switching one or two of their weekly workouts to dancing’.
She said: ‘Learning and remembering new steps in a dance class activates many neural pathways in the brain, helping to keep it strong, active and healthy.’
And dance classes can reduce social anxiety, increase self-esteem and confidence.
Expert says that dancing every day can reduce anxiety, help manage chronic pain
Move aside laughter, dancing may be the real natural medicine for treating anxiety and chronic pain – and it could even help boost the spirits of Alzheimer’s patients.
Starre Vartan, a prominent science writer and former-geologist writes for the Washington Post that dance helped her get through tough, lonely, times during the COVID-19 pandemic, and experts agree that the activity can have positive impacts on the brain.
While there have been known links between regular physical activity and improved mental health, experts say that there could be some further benefits for dancing.
Daily dancing has been linked to lessoning anxiety symptoms, management of chronic pain, and even an overall higher quality of life for people suffering from Alzheimer’s.
Vartan writes that during the pandemic, the illness of her father and then her own long bout with Covid left her in a tough place mentally.
She would dance daily to relieve her feelings of anxiety over the situations, and found it to be of great effect.
While Vartan – along with many other amateur hoofers – may just be flailing around in their bedrooms, there is a clinical aspect of dancing.
A study by Turkish researchers at Selçuk University in 2011 found that dancing provides drugless treatment for extreme low mood. Depression levels of 120 students ‘meaningfully’ decreased after 12 weeks of dance training.
In 2019, research published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology looked at 351 adults with mild to severe depression receiving dance movement therapy alongside their usual treatment, which could have been drugs or another psychological therapy.
It found people having dance movement therapy twice a week for 10 weeks had a decrease in depression scores, compared to those who were only receiving their usual treatment.
A 2016 study by the University of Hertfordshire looked at the effect of 10 weeks of social dance sessions on the elderly, including those with Parkinson’s disease.
The elderly dancers saw a reduction in mood disturbance and anger levels, and those who were scoring higher in depression at the start said they had more energy after the sessions.
Soccer, baseball and netball and other team sports are a mental health double whammy as they also tackle feelings of isolation which can occur alongside low mood.
A study from June this year showed that children who do team sports had fewer mental health difficulties than those not participating in any organized sports.
The California State, Fullerton researchers analyzed data from 11,235 children aged nine to 13 about their sports habits and mental health.
It even found that children who only do sports on their own, such as tennis or wrestling, have greater mental health challenges than children who do no sport at all, underlining the importance of the communal aspect.
Separate research in 2019 in the journal Sports Science & Medicine compared self-reported anxiety and depression in athletes in individual sports such as gymnastics, versus team sports like hockey.
13 per cent of the individual sport athletes reported anxiety and depression, compared to seven per cent of the team sport athletes.
And a 2014 study found the benefits of joining in with team sports at school can continue into early adulthood.
Over 800 adolescents tracked their participation in school sports throughout five years of school, then reported their levels of depressive symptoms, stress and overall self-rated mental health.
The University of Toronto researchers found that being involved with sports at school was a ‘statistically significant’ way of predicting lower depression and stress levels and higher self-rated mental health in young adulthood.
Meanwhile, a study in 2005 found students who participated in high school athletics were less likely to experience suicidal thoughts.
16,626 adolescents from 151 schools completed an 88-item questionnaire assessing a range of health risk behaviors.
Competing in athletics meant reduced odds of considering suicide for both boys and girls.
This could be because caring teammates help to create a protective social support network, meaning people feel less alone.
Other researchers suggested sport involvement ‘fosters positive peer relations and social integration between families and school’ and ‘helps adolescents deal with stress’, leading to better mental health.
Yoga can help reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety. It is especially beneficial to people who are suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (file photo)
The health benefits of yoga are so widely known that in September this year, the World Health Organization said it should be offered in offices to tackle spiraling rates of depression.
Repeated, rhythmic motion in yoga is usually accompanied by soft, relaxing music, giving a therapeutic effect.
Since stress is often a big factor in depression, part of yoga’s effectiveness comes from its proven ability to release tension and lower cortisol levels — people who are depressed tend to have elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
One study looked at the levels of the amino acid GABA in those who practice yoga often compared to those who do an equivalent amount of walking — considered to be a similarly strenuous form of exercise.
Scientists found they were significantly higher in those who did yoga.
This amino acid is vital for a well-functioning brain and central nervous system and helps promote feelings of calm inside the body. Low GABA levels are associated with depression and anxiety.
As well as increased amounts of GABA, scientists found that those who did yoga also reported lower levels of anxiety and better moods than the walkers.
A 2020 study by New York University found that yoga is better at reducing symptoms of anxiety than traditional stress-management.
226 people suffering with generalized anxiety disorder took up either Kundalini yoga, a stress-management course or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
Three months later, after weekly hour-long sessions, more than half (54 per cent) of those who practiced yoga saw their symptoms improve.
This was far superior to the results of the stress management cohort, where only a third of patients saw their condition improve, but CBT was still the best.
A meta-analysis of studies done by the University of Rochester in 2017 found that yoga benefitted those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
This was particularly the case when paired with meditation. Researchers said the combination ‘hold[s] promise for treating symptoms of PTSD’.
Smriti Joshi, a lead psychologist at Wysa, told DailyMail.com that to get mental health benefits from exercise, ‘you don’t need to push yourself or feel the burn – you can spend time connecting with your body’.
Yoga is perfect for this, she said, adding: ‘A flow sequence calms the nerves, increases oxytocin to feel love for yourself, and eases tiredness.’
Any kind of touch boosts levels of the love hormone oxytocin in the body, including self-touch in yoga.
Touch stimulates the release of the hormone into the blood, giving us a warm, fuzzy feeling and lowers stress and anxiety.
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