Health Tips

Finding Yourself Again Through Exercise: It’s Good for Your Brain!

A woman jogging by the water looking contemplative.

We’ve all been at that point in our lives when we are recovering from a setback. Have you experienced one of the following lately?

  1. Heartbreak
  2. Loss of a loved one
  3. A missed job opportunity
  4. Divorce
  5. Kids leaving the nest
  6. Illness

Challenging events like these often prompt us to take an inventory of our lives (past and present). This must occur before we can find a new direction and choose the steps to get there. Until we find that meaningful objective, it’s possible to feel lost. We still wake up each day and go through our routines, but we lack passion. Our imagination often goes untriggered. We wish that we could return to that place of passion, but we’re in a period of transition. When life is just inching along, we recommend that you start a new exercise routine. In this piece, we explore how exercise is good for your mood, which can even out your emotions as you work past a difficult situation.

The Antidepressant Effect of Exercise

It’s easy to find studies describing the antidepressant effects of exercise, but the exact chemistry is beyond the popular consciousness. Basically, when you go through an exercise routine, you create positive effects in your blood that will improve your mood. If you know that exercise is good for you and experience elevated moods, you’ll be more likely to go to the gym. Once you build up to a regular routine, your body will look forward to it. Physical workouts are the ticket to long-term health, which is its own form of wealth.

The Feel-Good Effect

The act of exercising causes your body to produce chemicals called neurotransmitters in the brain. They are called glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). When these neurotransmitters are received in your brain, they serve to reduce your mind’s perception of pain. You also get a natural high, similar to that feeling after a quick sprint or a long jog. You can also get this feeling after lifting weights or stretching your body in certain ways. Just like when a person takes morphine, the feeling is euphoric. People who love exercise want to experience this natural high again and again, and that’s why they make their workouts more difficult over time.

New Research on How the Brain Works During Exercise

We were excited to learn that the brain does more than just produce glutamate and GABA. “Major depressive disorder is often characterized by depleted glutamate and GABA, which return to normal when mental health is restored,” said study lead author Richard Maddock, professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. “Our study shows that exercise activates the metabolic pathway that replenishes these neurotransmitters.” The brain will use glucose and other carbohydrates during exercise, which means the physical demand is greater than, say, when we play chess.

The Opposite Concern

Another concern that arose from this study is that a sedentary lifestyle can have a negative impact on brain function. The possibility that your brain isn’t getting challenged enough through exercise will hopefully encourage people to get up off the couch and take a walk. If you don’t like the gym, try swimming, cycling, or hiking. Climb up and down the stairs in your building. The goal is to get your body moving and to stimulate the production of glutamate and GABA in your brain.

Move Past Your Transitional Period

Exercise challenges the body to reach new physical limits while providing benefits for the brain. Your muscles and joints get a workout while your heart and lungs increase in capacity. The regular release of endorphins gives you a general sense of well being, helping you cope better with life’s stressors. Enjoying life and feeling healthy is all about achieving balance.

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