You have probably heard it before; how exercise is good for you. Well, of course that is true but it is not just good for your physical health. Physical activity can help with depression and anxiety as well. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), exercise reduces stress, improves your alertness, helps you concentrate better, and boosts those chemicals that your brain produces that make you feel better all over.

What Are Endorphins, Dopamine, Oxytocin, and Serotonin?

Some people call them the happy chemicals and it is true that these natural chemicals that your brain produces when you exercise, you will feel your mood improve. Each one of them is responsible for a different mood booster and is wired differently.

  • Dopamine is the feel-good chemical your brain releases when you see something you like or achieve a goal. It is also brought on by physical exertion. It is the satisfying chemical that spikes when you do something right or something positive happens to you. It motivates you to reach your goals and you get a surge of it when you reach a goal.
  • Serotonin is a chemical in the brain that starts moving when you feel important, when you exercise, and even when you absorb Vitamin-D from sitting in the sun. Those with depression are usually deficient in serotonin and that is why many psychiatrists or physicians prescribe SSRIs. These drugs, called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors because they block the brain’s ability to absorb the serotonin so your body can enjoy it more. However, many people can improve their serotonin levels with exercise alone.
  • Oxytocin is another feel-good hormone that is released by the body during childbirth and orgasm (yes, sex counts as exercise). It is also easy to get an oxytocin boost by giving someone a hug. Giving or receiving a gift can also boost this happy chemical. It is called the cuddle chemical because it is related to relationships and being close to another. Petting your dog or cat has also been identified as a way to boost your oxytocin as well.
  • Endorphins are the chemicals in your brain that are similar to morphine because they can relieve pain and relax you when you are stressed out or hurt. Exercise and laughter are two of the easiest ways to get endorphins. Making yourself laugh while you are exercising is a double mood booster. Certain smells have also been linked to producing more endorphins and so has spicy food and, my favorite, dark chocolate. So, after you eat some hot wings, eat some chocolate, exercise, and laugh at yourself in the mirror. Really. It works.

Prescription for Mental Health

Exercise is so important in fighting anxiety and depression that some therapists and doctors are actually prescribing it. In fact, even the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has recommended at least 45 minutes of exercise three days per week to combat depression. According to experts, about 5% of adults in the United States have experiences seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, which is a depressive condition that only affect people during the winter. It is thought to be caused by not getting enough sunlight because during the winter there is less sunlight and many people live in areas where it is too cold to be outside long in the winter. But, if you can just get out there and walk for about a half an hour per day, several days a week, you will be feeling better in no time.

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