The mental health benefits of exercise have been talked about for a long time. Runner’s high has been known about for years, and anecdotally most people can tell you that they feel mentally invigorated and happier after a strenuous workout.
And medically, it’s now seen as one of the most useful tools to fight depression, stress and all manner of other mental health ailments.
But why? How does it work?
Most people have heard of endorphins, and know they have something to do with happiness, and know that they get released during exercise.
But there’s a little more to it than that.
The reality is that when you go through strenuous workouts, your brain instinctively reacts as if you’re in trouble. It assumes you’re fighting, hunting or running away and in order to help you out it releases a protein called BDNF. This protein protects your brain from stress to you keep you calm and alert.
That’s why we sometimes feel so clear-headed and happy after exercising.
On top of that, endorphins are released which block pain and induce a feeling of euphoria.
Our brain likes these chemicals so much that they’re actually almost as addictive as nicotine. But the difference is – they’re really good for us!
The end results of your brain releasing all these lovely chemicals are: