Science & Technology

Unlocking the benefits of exercise for mental health

It’s a no-brainer that the physical benefits of exercise can take time to manifest, but the emotional and mental benefits can be almost instantaneous.

“When we exercise, more of the hormone serotonin is released,” Louise Lockhart, a nurse at Macdonald campus’ Student Health Services, explained.

These hormonal releases work as an immediate mood booster.

“When we exercise, blood flow increases steadily to the brain and other hormones are also released, such as thyroxine and androgen, which lead to a much calmer demeanour,” Lockhart said.

In addition to improving mood, exercise can lead to greater confidence.

“Overall, even after exercising a moderate amount, we can feel an immediate boost of energy, self esteem, and increased cognitive function,” Lockhart said.

In university, regular exercise becomes increasingly important in managing anxiety and mild depression, since these conditions usually develop during late adolescence and early adulthood. However, with severe depression, it is necessary to contact a professional.

“[There is] a lot of data [that] suggests that college students [who] exercise report [fewer] mental health problems,” Jill Barker, director of Macdonald Athletics and Recreation and a fitness columnist for the Montreal Gazette, said.

Mathilde Guglielmi, U1 Environment, has felt the benefits from exercise first hand. Guglielmi explained that she started experiencing symptoms of depression during the summer after her freshman year at McGill. Running became her way to improve her mood and fight depression.

“I kept running and it [became] a kind of a drive,” Guglielmi said. “The anxiety is worst when I don’t run, so my body gives me a push to go.”

For Gugliemi, running is also a study aid. Studies have shown regular exercise has positive impacts on productivity in the workplace, and for that matter, the classroom.

“It motivates me!” Gugliemi said. “After a run, I become more productive and get more stuff done. When I don’t run, I am more jittery and distracted.”

It can be difficult to know how to form a new habit. Yet, it is important to focus on self-care to experience the positive effects of exercise on one’s mental state.

“‘No pain, no gain’ is counter-productive if you want the emotional and mental benefits of exercise,” Lockhart said.

Gugliemi suggested finding people to run with so it keeps you accountable to a plan.

“It helps because you have motivation as you can talk to them while you run and you can challenge each other,” Gugliemi said. “Exercise was always a social thing.”

Exercise also presents an opportunity for social interaction. As Gugliemi explains, there’s no shame in starting slow.

“You can start running in intervals where you [switch between] running and walking,” Gugliemi said.

Overall, exercise should be enjoyable and leave you feeling relaxed. Though it can be difficult, Barker offered some helpful tips to get started on a regular fitness routine.

“[Use] an app to track your goals and progress, [find] something that you really want to do, [and] start slowly and spread out your workout,” Barker said.

Ultimately, self-encouragement and visualization are helpful tools when trying to find motivation and will help develop positive feelings towards working out.

Next time you’re struggling to get out and run, remember that the rewards are not just physical, but mental, and will literally pay off in the long run.

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