To achieve physical fitness, exercising regularly is obviously a must. And, in recent years, exercise has also been proven to help improve mental health. Moderate and low-intensity aerobic exercise, for instance, is associated with lesser symptoms of anxiety and depression. This is thought to be the result of improved blood flow to the brain and increased endorphin levels.
If you’re wondering whether just any type of exercise would do, studies show that physical activities, in general, are associated with positive effects on mental health. However, specific types of exercises actually have varying effects on mental health. More importantly, there are certain exercises you can do to help prevent specific mental disorders. Read on to find out how you can avoid these mental disorders through regular physical activity.
#1 Major Depressive Disorder
A lack of physical exercise has been shown to be associated with major depressive disorders or depression. However, people who are getting regular exercise on top of being treated for depression are actually more responsive to the treatments. Furthermore, for people who are taking anti-depressant medications, aerobic training and strength training are the types of exercise that are recommended.
Various studies have investigated the different effects of working out on depressive symptoms. One study, for instance, showed that in elderly patients suffering from depression, high-intensity PRT or progressive resistance training is more effective in relieving depression as compared to low-intensity PRT, although both types of training did lead to a reduction in depression score.
Another study showed that aerobic exercise, whether at home or in a supervised group setting, led to a remission from depression after four months of treatment. This means that the participants were no longer clinically diagnosed as depressed. Although those receiving anti-depressant medications had higher remission rates, those who were receiving supervised aerobic exercise treatment were not far behind, and even those who were doing home-based aerobic exercise also achieved remission.
Although these studies had different designs and settings, one thing is clear – exercise, more specifically aerobic exercise and progressive resistance training, helped improve the mental health of clinically diagnosed depressive patients.
#2 Alzheimer’s Disease
Dementia is a serious globally prevalent neurodegenerative disease, the most common form of which is Alzheimer’s disease. As most people know, cognitive functions slowly degenerate as the disease spreads in the brain. Previous studies have established how proper nutrition and sufficient mental stimulation can help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
There have also been studies in the past that showed how physical activities can prevent the development of Alzheimer’s and delay further cognitive impairment in those who already have the disease. For instance, a study found out that engaging in physical activities lowered the relative risk of dementia by almost 30%. It was also associated with reduced risks of Alzheimer’s disease as well as Parkinson’s disease.
Another benefit of regular physical exercise on brain health is that it reduces inflammation in the brain and increases the resilience of the brain cells. Moreover, one study found that treadmill exercise can help prevent the formation of tangles in the brain, which is common in Alzheimer’s. In animal models, wheel running was found to lessen the formation of brain plaque.
Thus, for people who are at risk of Alzheimer’s, running and treadmill exercises appear to be the best form of physical activities for the prevention of the disease.
#3 Parkinson’s Disease
Parkinson’s disease is the second most prevalent type of neurodegenerative diseases. The most common symptom of Parkinson’s disease show as tremors, caused by the increasing loss of dopaminergic neurons or brain cells that use dopamine as their main neurotransmitter.
A study showed that when you engage in physical activities at moderate to vigorous intensities at ages 35-39, it may help prevent Parkinson’s disease. The risks of developing Parkinson’s disease are reduced by as much as 40%.
Another study showed that engaging in supervised resistance training, even if it’s just twice a week for a period of two months, can significantly reduce oxidative damage in Parkinson’s disease patients. It also resulted to increased antioxidant activities, which is important for people suffering from Parkinson’s disease because antioxidants prevent further damage to the neurons that are targeted by the disease.
This means that when you exercise, you not only keep your body physically fit for the present but you also prepare your brain’s defenses against neurodegenerative diseases that might attack you in your advanced years.
#4 Mood And Anxiety
Physical exercise also has positive effects on mood and anxiety. However, one study indicates that there might be a limit to how much or how intense the exercise patients with mood and anxiety disorders should get. Results of the study suggest that when these patients exercise beyond their ventilatory threshold, or the point where breathing starts to become labored, the physical activity becomes threatening instead of being pleasurable and relaxing.
This suggests that for patients suffering from mood and anxiety disorders, affective responses toward exercise, or how they emotionally respond to the activity, depends on the intensity of the physical activity. Once they reach that point where they feel that it’s already difficult for them to go on, or when they start having difficulties breathing, they start to react negatively to the situation.
This is important to note for those who are trying to help these patients, as forcing them to continue with the intense workout may even trigger more anxiety attacks or make them even more depressed.
One interesting study showed that when participants were surveyed about their mood right after strength training or aerobic exercise, it appeared that their mood even became poorer. However, if they were surveyed half an hour after the exercise session, that was when their moods improved. This suggests that longer recovery periods may be the key to eliciting positive responses towards physical activities.
The Bottom Line
It is already widely recognized that regular workout sessions and other physical activities positively impact brain health. However, one key takeaway from these studies is that it’s also equally important to determine what type of regular exercise you should engage in, and up to what level of intensity. This way, you can maximize the positive effects of working out.