4 Ways Exercise can Reduce Stress and Improve your Mental Health

As the year comes to an end, many of us find ourselves getting consumed by stress. The Christmas rush puts extra pressure on people to work even harder than usual to meet those deadlines. There are only a few more days left in the year to achieve your personal and professional goals. As well as working longer hours than usual, your social life is also pretty hectic due to Christmas parties, family reunions and catching up with friends. Aside from all of this, your pocket feels that extra pinch during the festive season and can cause additional stress and anxiety as you assess your financial situation. It’s at times like this, more so than ever, that exercise can be of huge benefit.

Here are 4 reasons why:

1. EXERCISE HELPS US COPE WITH STRESS MORE EFFICIENTLY

An intense workout induces the release of norepinephrine, a natural occurring chemical in the body that acts as a stress hormone and neurotransmitter. This chemical assists with the regulation of the brains stress response which in turn, can make the body more efficient at dealing with stress (1). By dedicating at least 20-30 minutes of intense physical activity into your daily routine, you can help keep stress levels under control.

2. EXERCISE HAS A POSITIVE IMPACT ON OUR MOOD

It is widely know that exercise has a positive impact on how we feel. Exercise elevates the levels of serotonin in our body, a neurotransmitter derived from the amino acid tryptophan and known to regulate mood (2). The majority of serotonin is synthesised in your gut so eating foods high in tryptophan e.g. poultry, particularly turkey, seafood, dairy, nuts, seeds and legumes will help optimise gut production of this “happy hormone” (3).

Dopamine, another neurotransmitter in the body that has a positive effect on our mental health, is also increased through physical activity. Dopamine signals the reward and pleasure centres in our brain, motivating us to form habits that make us feel good. Similar to serotonin, dopamine is also produced from amino acids (tyrosine and phenylalanine) obtained from protein rich foods e.g. meat, poultry, dairy, soy, and legumes (4).

Exercise increases endorphin levels and thus improves mood and alleviates anxiety. Endorphins are the body’s natural pain killing neurochemicals, produced in the pituitary gland in response to stress and pain. They provide a natural high and are responsible for that feel good factor or “runners high” that we experience after putting our body through an intense workout or long run (5).

3. EXERCISE ENHANCES COGNITIVE FUNCTION

Regular exercise promotes hippocampus neurogenesis, the development of new brain cells. The molecule that drives this process is known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) (6). This area of the brain is responsible for learning, memory and decision making/reacting (7). An increase in BDNF through exercise will help boost brain power, ensuring you remain sharp and at the top of your game in both your work and personal life during this busy time of year.

4. EXERCISE IMPROVES SLEEP

When working with a new client one of the first points that is regularly noted is the improvement in sleep quality as a result of regular exercise. This finding is backed up by many studies which show a correlation between exercise and an improvement in sleep (8). Check out a previous CoachPACT.com blog to find out how sleep can effect your health and perfomance.

A combination of exercise, good quality sleep and a balanced diet that includes some of the foods mentioned above will play a crucial role in keeping your stress and anxiety levels at bay so you can enjoy all of the happiness that comes with Christmas and ringing in the New Year.