There is no dispute that a comprehensive, well structured, physical training regimen is extremely beneficial to our physical well-being. The effect that exercise has on our mental health has become increasingly popular. Studies have been conducted considering the positive effects exercise has on mental issues such as depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem to name a few (Mikkelsena, Stojanovskaa, Polenakovicb, Bosevskic & Apostolopoulos, 2017). But what does that mean for you in your addiction recovery journey? Persons in recovery often find themselves living with co-occurring disorders (a combination of two or more disorders occurring simultaneously). Taking a holistic approach in treatment (i.e. exercise, proper nutrition, medicine, posture, etc…) may prove to be successful in alleviating multiple symptoms/issues at one time.
What exactly happens in our brains when we exercise?
When we exercise, some key neurotransmitters are released in the brain. One of these neurotransmitters is endorphin. Endorphins are our body’s natural pain relievers/blockers, that also play a role in our feelings of pleasure and can relieve stress. Another neurotransmitter, serotonin, is produced and released, in the presence of exercise. Serotonin is thought to play a significant role in processes related to mood, appetite, sexual desire, sleep, and memory to name a few. Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor, or BDNF, is also influenced by exercise. BDNF is a protein (in the neurotrophin family) that has been shown to play a role in improving synaptic transmission, learning, memory, and improvement of the overall health of neurons.
So why is this important in treating mental health issues?
Some of the more prevalent mental health issues, such as depression, can hardly be explained as being caused by one sole factor. In depression, for example, some of the factors that play a role are biological or chemical imbalances, environmental issues, and psychological trauma to name a few. Because the cause is multifaceted, so too must the treatment be. Exercise affects many aspects of one’s life. Depending on the exercise, it might make a person stronger physically and mentally. It might encourage the depressed person to make connections during a group exercise class and not isolate themselves which we know plays an important role in depression. Exercising can help produce and secrete hormones and transmitters to change brain and body chemistry for the better. It can help correct blood pressure issues and other common physical ailments that have been known to affect mood and mental well-being.
Research for the efficacy of exercise on mental health is ongoing. There is no denying that exercise is genuinely good for overall health. In recovery, this is one of the many things that you have total control over that will play a significant role. Why not set yourself up for success?
Consult with your primary care physician to see what types of exercises are right for you.
Please see below for more information associated with exercise, mental health and your recovery: