fitness and mental health

Connecting the Dots: Physical Fitness and its Effect on Mental Health

In a world where stress, anxiety, substance misuse, and depression are rising, finding effective ways to improve mental well-being has become paramount. That’s why physical fitness and mental health are genuinely connected.

While counseling, treatment, and medication have an important place in mental health treatment, a growing body of research reveals that physical exercise can significantly influence and improve mental health. 

Whether aerobic or anaerobic, exercise provides many benefits that extend far beyond physical fitness. In this article, I explore the profound impact of physical exercise on mental health, unlocking the secrets to a happier and healthier mind and body.

Aerobic Exercise and Mental Health

Aerobic exercises, also known as cardiovascular exercises, are activities that get the heart pumping and increase the body’s oxygen intake. Examples include running, swimming, cycling, dancing, and brisk walking. Regular aerobic exercise has been linked to numerous mental health benefits:

  • Stress Reduction: Aerobic exercises stimulate the release of endorphins, the body’s natural mood enhancers. These endorphins act as stress busters, reducing anxiety and tension.
  • Enhanced Cognitive Function: Studies suggest aerobic exercise improves cognitive functions, including memory, attention, and problem-solving skills. It promotes neuroplasticity, fostering the growth of new neurons and enhancing brain health.
  • Mood Regulation: Regular aerobic exercise has shown to be effective in alleviating symptoms of depression and elevating mood. It can serve as a natural antidepressant by promoting the production of serotonin and norepinephrine, neurotransmitters associated with feelings of happiness and relaxation.
  • Anxiety Management: Exercise aerobic can help manage anxiety symptoms by reducing the hyperactivity of the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for processing fear.

Anaerobic Exercise and Mental Health

Anaerobic exercises involve short bursts of intense physical activity, usually characterized by strength training, resistance exercises, and high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Although the mental health benefits of anaerobic exercise are less explored than aerobic exercise, they are equally impactful:

  • Confidence Boost: Strength training and resistance exercises can lead to improved body image and self-esteem. Achieving fitness goals and feeling stronger contributes to a positive self-perception.
  • Stress Relief: While anaerobic exercise might not trigger the same immediate endorphin release as aerobic exercise, it can still help reduce stress by providing a distraction from daily worries and promoting relaxation.
  • Emotional Resilience: Regularly engaging in challenging workouts can build emotional resilience and coping mechanisms. Overcoming obstacles in physical training can translate to a greater ability to handle life’s challenges.

Combining Aerobic and Anaerobic Exercise

While aerobic and anaerobic exercise can independently benefit mental health, a balanced exercise routine that incorporates both types can provide a more comprehensive and holistic approach to improving mental well-being.

  • Increased Neuroplasticity. The combination of aerobic and anaerobic exercise can create an environment that enhances neuroplasticity, optimizing brain function and cognitive abilities.
  • Balanced Hormonal Response: The mix of aerobic and anaerobic exercise can create a well-rounded hormonal response. It also regulates the body’s stress hormones and promoting better emotional stability.
  • Sustainable Motivation: Variety in workouts can prevent monotony and keep individuals motivated to maintain a regular exercise routine. This consistency is vital for long-term mental health benefits.

Physical exercise and fitness is not only about building a strong body or weight management, but also on mental health. Both aerobic and anaerobic exercise play unique and complementary roles in enhancing mood, reducing stress, and improving mental well-being. 

Whether you prefer a brisk jog, a strength training session, or a combination of both, regular exercise can pave the way for a healthier and happier mind.

About Shari Corbitt

Shari Corbitt is a licensed psychologist in California and specialist in mental health, addiction, eating disorders, chronic pain relief, and marijuana psychosis. Dr. Corbitt was trained at Yeshiva University in New York City and relocated to California in 2002 to pursue her interests in holistic and complementary treatment modalities. She spent five years as the Director of Human Services on the Rincon Indian Reservation at the Indian Health Council in Pauma Valley, CA. Later, she served as the Clinical Director at Sierra Tucson in Tucson, AZ (2006-2009) and the Vice President of Promises Treatment Centers in Malibu, CA (2009-2011). Dr. Corbitt founded Awakenings Treatment Center to provide cutting edge treatment for individuals suffering from substance abuse disorders, as well as related emotional difficulties. Optimal wellness is the goal for every client. Dr. Corbitt lives in gratitude each day for her own recovery, which she enjoys one day at a time.