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

like alcoholism (those are called beta­endorphins and they have been proven to be

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

long enough.

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.


About Dr. Anastasia

Dr. Anastasia Halldin holds a Ph.D in holistic nutrition. She is a homeschooling mother of four boys and a girl. Dr. Anastasia starred on a yoga TV show. She also produced and appeared in thirteen yoga DVDs. Dr. Anastasia speaks four languages and loves doing crafts with her children. She adores sharing her easy healthy family recipes with other mothers.
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