Exercise and mental heath: Impacts and benefits

By Seth Strawn, MS, LPC | January 3, 2022

In this episode of the Family Care Learning Podcast, we hear from Brandon and Seth who discuss the importance of exercise in psychology and in our general sense of well being.

Can exercise really influence our brains and influence the way that we feel or change the way we feel?

Seth shares how exercise can help decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression, relieve stress, increases energy, improve mood, and generally improve overall wellbeing.

When moving and exercising, blood flow is increasing. If we’re doing some type of activity, whether it be just a moderate level activity, like hiking going for light jogs, swimming, climbing, or dancing, our heart increases, which is sending more blood to our brain and more oxygen throughout our bodies. Additionally, we begin to experience more presence within our own body.

If you’ve got areas in your body where you’ve been carrying stress, you begin to notice it more… especially if you’re doing more isometric exercises… any type of stretching or exercise where you’re holding poses.

Let’s say you’re doing a wall sit or a plank. You start to ask, “Where is this tension?” …and then your body is releasing that. When we are stressed or anxious, we have more adrenaline built up in our bodies. We have more cortisol built up in our bodies and those are fantastic to have if they’re being used in that moment.

A lot of times when you see chronic stress and acute anxiety, it is those chemicals just building and building, but we’re not actually releasing them. Through exercise, we can start to release the tension and at the same time increase happy chemicals. When we’re engaging in regular activity, we increase our levels of serotonin. Serotonin plays a role in our sense of belonging as well as positive identity.

Similarly, dopamine is a chemical within the body that is linked to motivation. When we look at ourselves and we just have no motivation, like, “I don’t want to get out of bed this morning,” then there could be low levels of dopamine in our system. Exercise can help increase that and can help increase motivation.

Are there specific exercises that are better for your mental health?

Seth says you just need to move.

High intensity exercises can have fantastic benefits for our wellbeing. However, if we do too much of it, then it can have the opposite effect.

Try to find ways to exercise as a means of stepping away from the busy-ness on purpose… to move on purpose.

When engaging in moderate-intensity exercise, we’re creating new neural pathways and we’re making those connections in our brain processing. It also promotes the growth of new brain cells.

At Arizona Family Counseling we use EMDR with some of our clients, and there is extensive research surrounding bilateral stimulation. We take positive thoughts and replace negative thoughts or negative feelings with bilateral stimulation, and that helps to reinforce more healthy, more productive thoughts.

You can simply go for a walk around the neighborhood and pay attention to your surroundings. You can intentionally avoid thinking about work and just be present. Sometimes we can make exercise way more complicated than it needs to be.

Some people may feel like they don’t have time to exercise or do something for themselves but even things that you’re already doing, you can be a bit more intentional about.

Are there any cautions or things people should think about before they start engaging in any kind of physical activity?

Other than checking with your doctor, keep balance in mind.

It’s more than just exercise that contributes to our wellbeing. What are you putting in your body each day? There’s just as much research in science which tells us that what we eat has a direct impact on what we feel.

Are you getting enough food in your body each day that’s nutritionally good for your body? Are you getting enough rest and sleep?

What does your social engagement look like? We are social and relational beings, and a huge part of our wellbeing beyond exercise is our interactions with others. Are you maintaining healthy friendships, healthy relationships with family, and healthy relationships at work? If any of those are lacking, even if you’re moving and working on just being mindful and relieving stress and tension, you’re still not going to feel that great.

If you’re struggling with self-care, Arizona Family Counseling is here for you. Seth, as one of our therapists is here for you even to work on establishing a healthy self-care routine to address anxiety or depression. We hope and pray that this podcast and blog post is an encouragement to you.

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In this episode of the Family Care Learning Podcast, we hear from Brandon and Seth who discuss the importance of exercise in psychology and in our general sense of well being.

Can exercise really influence our brains and influence the way that we feel or change the way we feel?

Seth shares how exercise can help decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression, relieve stress, increases energy, improve mood, and generally improve overall wellbeing.

When moving and exercising, blood flow is increasing. If we’re doing some type of activity, whether it be just a moderate level activity, like hiking going for light jogs, swimming, climbing, or dancing, our heart increases, which is sending more blood to our brain and more oxygen throughout our bodies. Additionally, we begin to experience more presence within our own body.

If you’ve got areas in your body where you’ve been carrying stress, you begin to notice it more… especially if you’re doing more isometric exercises… any type of stretching or exercise where you’re holding poses.

Let’s say you’re doing a wall sit or a plank. You start to ask, “Where is this tension?” …and then your body is releasing that. When we are stressed or anxious, we have more adrenaline built up in our bodies. We have more cortisol built up in our bodies and those are fantastic to have if they’re being used in that moment.

A lot of times when you see chronic stress and acute anxiety, it is those chemicals just building and building, but we’re not actually releasing them. Through exercise, we can start to release the tension and at the same time increase happy chemicals. When we’re engaging in regular activity, we increase our levels of serotonin. Serotonin plays a role in our sense of belonging as well as positive identity.

Similarly, dopamine is a chemical within the body that is linked to motivation. When we look at ourselves and we just have no motivation, like, “I don’t want to get out of bed this morning,” then there could be low levels of dopamine in our system. Exercise can help increase that and can help increase motivation.

Are there specific exercises that are better for your mental health?

Seth says you just need to move.

High intensity exercises can have fantastic benefits for our wellbeing. However, if we do too much of it, then it can have the opposite effect.

Try to find ways to exercise as a means of stepping away from the busy-ness on purpose… to move on purpose.

When engaging in moderate-intensity exercise, we’re creating new neural pathways and we’re making those connections in our brain processing. It also promotes the growth of new brain cells.

At Arizona Family Counseling we use EMDR with some of our clients, and there is extensive research surrounding bilateral stimulation. We take positive thoughts and replace negative thoughts or negative feelings with bilateral stimulation, and that helps to reinforce more healthy, more productive thoughts.

You can simply go for a walk around the neighborhood and pay attention to your surroundings. You can intentionally avoid thinking about work and just be present. Sometimes we can make exercise way more complicated than it needs to be.

Some people may feel like they don’t have time to exercise or do something for themselves but even things that you’re already doing, you can be a bit more intentional about.

Are there any cautions or things people should think about before they start engaging in any kind of physical activity?

Other than checking with your doctor, keep balance in mind.

It’s more than just exercise that contributes to our wellbeing. What are you putting in your body each day? There’s just as much research in science which tells us that what we eat has a direct impact on what we feel.

Are you getting enough food in your body each day that’s nutritionally good for your body? Are you getting enough rest and sleep?

What does your social engagement look like? We are social and relational beings, and a huge part of our wellbeing beyond exercise is our interactions with others. Are you maintaining healthy friendships, healthy relationships with family, and healthy relationships at work? If any of those are lacking, even if you’re moving and working on just being mindful and relieving stress and tension, you’re still not going to feel that great.

If you’re struggling with self-care, Arizona Family Counseling is here for you. Seth, as one of our therapists is here for you even to work on establishing a healthy self-care routine to address anxiety or depression. We hope and pray that this podcast and blog post is an encouragement to you.

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