Exercise and your Mental Health

March 9th, 2022

By Quintin Santiago

Much debate goes into exercise and its benefits. So much debate, that if you don’t watch out, you will end up in an “Bro Science” rabbit hole. Note: “Bro Science” is a thing. Exercise is clearly beneficial for your physical health; however, it can also be highly beneficial for your mental health as well. Today were going to leave the “Bro Science” behind and delve into some actual science- well enough to make a point.

I am a personal trainer by trade craft, so I do have a bias opinion toward exercise. Depending on the publication you read, you’ll find that people who exercise tend to: 

  • feel sharper throughout the day 
  • sleep better and through the night 
  • report great wellbeing 
  • Increase your energy levels 
  • Can improve self-esteem when associated with goals and accomplishments 
  • Release of chemical messengers inside the body (i.e., Serotonin, endorphins, etc.…) 

The long-term benefits of exercise are worth recognition as well. Dr. David J. Linden, Ph.D. a professor of Neuroscience at John’s Hopkins notes: “Exercise may also produce new cells in certain locations through a process called Neurogenesis, which may lead to overall improvement in brain performance and prevent cognitive decline”. The Human body is a remarkable piece of machinery. Whomever it is that designed this piece of machinery is a genuine artist. Our bodies are hardwired to send messages and information throughout the entire body. We have our own 5G network running under our skin.  

Most of us have heard of “The Runners High”, and Dr. Linden notes that the euphoric feeling we experience after a run might not be completely attributable to endorphins as we previously thought. However, the Doctor says this feeling comes from the release of endocannabinoids in the bloodstream. These endocannabinoids can easily cross the blood-brain barrier where they produce short-term psychoactive effects. The US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health more specifically state, “This physiologic influence is probably mediated by the communication of the HPA axis with several regions of the brain, including the limbic system, which controls motivation and mood; the amygdala, which generates fear in response to stress; and the hippocampus, which plays an important part in memory formation as well as in mood and motivation.” Need not I mention the personal feeling you get when you work-out, the “I just did that!” feeling. And how can I not throw in a little “Bro Science” for you, if you look good- you feel good. The compounding effects mentioned here all play a role in your mental health and is specifically designed to do just that. As stated before, remarkable machines we are! 

So, what exercise are you supposed to do? Here comes the “Bro Science” rabbit hole. There is a myriad of exercises out there that are designed to do different things. And the rabbit hole starts as soon as you ask the question: Which exercise is best? Most of the articles you might come across on the internet will give a clear win to running. If you go into a CrossFit gym, their obvious answer would be CrossFit, naturally. If you ask an MMA Instructor, they’ll sternly bock, “MMA Bro!”. But if we consider what our previous paragraph says, and what we’ve learned- we have a good idea of what’s happening to our bodies, and how to illicit that response. As a personal trainer I can confidently say that any workout raising your heart rate, burning calories, and lasting long enough to get your body into a stressed state is what you want to shoot for. 

Finally, your body is a temple, and it should be treated as such. Go out there and find something that interests you and isn’t too expensive. Start slow or start fast, so long as you start- that’s the key. Don’t get too caught up in the physiology of exercise right away, just get in there and get fit!