Exercise For Your Physical Health and Mental Health

Exercise has a direct physiological response on the body. Exercising on a regular basis can improve or help prevent a number of health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity. It also can have effects psychologically.

Exercise releases endorphins, which are the feel-good brain chemicals emitted by both the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus. Endorphins are the body’s natural painkillers that produce an effect similar to -- yet much milder than -- morphine. Exercise takes a toll on the body and often causes pain . . . whether it’s burning in the muscles from lifting weights or difficulty breathing while running on the treadmill.

Because endorphins are the body’s natural painkillers, they are released during exercise to block pain and allow the body to continue with activity for an extended amount of time. These endorphins linger in the body after exercise and produce a “euphoric” feeling.

Exercise increases energy levels. When you exercise, your body needs fuel to move. Your heart starts to pump more rapidly, sending more blood and oxygen throughout your body. Oxygen allows your muscles to move, body fat to be used for energy, and your brain to function. When oxygen delivery is slowed -- like when your body is at rest -- you become lethargic, sleepy and unmotivated. When your body is oxygenated, it feels awake and energized. Exercise makes your body more efficient at delivering oxygen, giving you more energy.

Exercise can be linked to better sleep habits as well. In a study conducted at Stanford University, a subject group that participated in 30 to 40 minutes of physical activity four days a week had improved sleep quality, longer sleep and a shorter time to fall asleep compared to people who didn’t exercise. However, exercise right before going to bed can have an adverse effect.

Sleep deprivation can diminish cognitive function, cause stress, anxiety and fatigue. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that adults age 18 and older get 7 to 9 hours of restful sleep each night.

So, how much exercise is needed? American College of Sports Medicine guidelines for cardiovascular benefits for healthy adults are 30 minutes or more five days per week. The same guidelines apply when referring to improving mental health and well-being; however, the concept of “something is better than nothing” applies as well. Smaller amounts of physical activity -- such as 10 or 15 minutes -- can make a difference.

Regular physical activity has countless benefits, both physically and psychologically. Whether you have 10 minutes or an hour, getting up and exercising will have a positive effect -- and it just might put you in a better mood.

Disclaimer: The information on this page was compiled by Brittany Tucker, NASM CES, BJC WellAware Center exercise specialist. This material provides general information only. It should not be used in place of the advice, instructions, or treatment given by your doctor or other health care professional.