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URMC / BHP / BHP Blog / July 2020 / Exercise – Good for the Body, Great for the Mind

Exercise – Good for the Body, Great for the Mind

By: Megan Maurer, N.P.

Exercise has always been good for the body and a person’s biological health. And while 2020 has brought its share of stress to the general population, exercise is one more tried-and-true technique to add to your arsenal of coping skills and can instantly help improve your mental health.

It seems simple at the surface – exercise is good for physical health, so why wouldn’t it be good for your mental health too? The trouble with using it as a tool, especially for anyone experiencing symptoms of depression and/or anxiety, is that motivation, or lack thereof, can get in the way. But on its own, or combined with therapy and the right medication, exercise is a powerful boost for your mood.

Even more good news: research has shown that even a small to moderate amount of exercise, as simple as walking or gardening, can improve your mood. It’s less about the duration and intensity of the exercise and more about the act of doing. One to two hours of exercise per week has been shown to lower rates of anxiety and depression, and increase your self-esteem, self-view and socialization even with healthy distancing guidelines in place.

Research extensively captures why exercise is so good for your mind. Stress creates cortisol in your body and can be felt in a variety of ways – sometimes it’s the good way, like your "flight or fight" response that provides energy in stressful situations. It’s when that stress can become chronic that cortisol creates inflammation and a host of other negative physical symptoms, from insomnia, gastrointestinal discomfort, weight gain, and trouble concentrating. During exercise, cardiac output increases and changes the blood distribution in your brain and, therefore, improves your mood, motivation, and overall quality of life.

When you exercise, your body increases its production of neurotransmitters, which in turn impacts serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, and endorphins. These neurotransmitters, or "happy chemicals", respond to stress and create mental health stability. One study on mother’s who recently gave birth found that those who moderately exercised experienced fewer incidents of post-partum depression because it reduced fatigue in daily activities, allowing individuals to do more things they like and improving their motivation. There are many biological factors too – improved blood pressure, decreased cardiac risk factors, improved cognitive function, and more. 

It can be hard to take the first step to get motivated. That’s why Behavioral Health Partners and the Employee Assistance Program are here to help.

Behavioral Health Partners is brought to you by Well-U, offering eligible individuals mental health services for stress, anxiety, and depression. Our team of mental health professionals can accurately assess your symptoms and make recommendations for treatment. To schedule an intake appointment, give us a call at (585) 276-6900.


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Harvey, S.B., Overland, S., Hatch, S. L., Wessely, S., Mykletun, A., & Hotopf, M. (2018). Exercise and the Prevention of Depression: Results of the HUNT Cohort Study. American Journal of Psychiatry, 175(1), 28-36.doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2017.1611123

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Keith Stein | 7/1/2020

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