by Anna Hicks
We all know that getting regular exercise is important for our physical health. It is how we
build our muscles and burn calories (and, by extension, control our weight).
Nobody likes the process of getting in shape, but once we’ve built
our bodies up a little bit, working out stops feeling like a chore and starts feeling really
It’s important to note that exercise isn’t just important for our physical health. It is also
incredibly important for our mental health as well. Exercise has proven to be helpful for
people dealing with addiction, depression, anxiety and a host of other mental health
issues. How does this work? It isn’t like we’re moving our brains around, right?
Exercise = Endorphins
By now we all know the quote from Legally Blonde: “Exercise gives you endorphins.
Endorphins make you happy.” It’s a simple way to phrase the science, but it’s more or
less accurate. There are a lot of different types of endorphinssome make us angry,
some trigger our instinctual fight or flight response, some even play a role in addictions
stronger than morphine). Exercise triggers a flood of these hormones into our system
creating a very real “runner’s high” after intense periods of aerobic activity and
weightlifting. If you haven’t felt it yet, it is likely because you haven’t exercised hard or
Exercise = Trackable Progress
Part of the problem with getting healthy, especially where losing weight is concerned, is
that it can be so difficult to really see the progress we are making. We get so used to bad
habits that new good habits feel more annoying than they do satisfying. This, when paired
with even a smidgen of body dysmorphia can keep us from really being able to see the
progress we make as we eat healthier foods and exercise.
One of the best things about exercise is that you can track your progress and force
yourself to “see” how far you have come. You can track, for example, how heavy the
weights you lifted were after each workout. You can track how far or how fast you ran that
mile. You can measure your body so that you can see inches falling away even if you still
look the same to yourself when you look into a mirror. Sometimes our brains lie to us.
Numbers do not.
Exercise = Control
It seems like a small thing but exercise can really help you feel like you are in better
control of your life. The control you feel here, when you force yourself to get up and go for
that jog or do that workout while you watch TV instead of sitting on the couch, can help
you better deal with areas of your life in which you feel less control. It can also be used as
a momentum builder. You made the choice to get up and exercise. You controlled what
you were doing with your body. This means that you can control what you do to your body
(making smarter eating choices, etc.)
Exercise Reduces Addictive Behaviors
Regular exercise is something that is very beneficial to people who suffer from
addictions. A lot of the reasons used for this push are reasons mentioned here already:
endorphins, control, progress. It also offers a healthy conduit for the anxiety and stress
anaddict will feel when he or she wants to seek out the subject of their addiction but don’t
want to give in to their disease. Recent studies have found, too, that regular exercise can
help reduce those addiction dependency feelings in the first place. A study performed on
rats showed that rats who got regular exercise were less likely to seek out the drugs to
which they had become addicted.
There are lots of reasons to exercise. Some people even find it fun! What is important to
remember today is that exercise doesn’t just help you physically. It helps you mentally
and emotionally as well.