Benefits of Exercise on Mood & Brain Health

By Deb Withington

Does exercise improve a person’s mood? The short answer is yes. While some people may benefit more from exercise than others; most people will benefit from moderate to intense levels of exercise, according to research published in “The Primary Care Companion – To The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.” This research suggests that aerobic exercises such as running, swimming, dancing, etc are beneficial due to increased blood circulation.  This publication also theorizes the distraction caused by exercise is also beneficial to brain function.  According to American Psychological Association, these benefits can be long-lasting when consistent and continued. There is also evidence suggesting exercise is as beneficial as drug therapy, but without the potential side affects. Exercise has been shown to cause the same brain response as drug therapy.

While depression is one of the most common mental health issues; it is not the only mental health issue that can benefit from exercise. Additional research performed by Smits and Otto has shown that exercise can also benefit people with anxiety disorder.  Smits and Otto’s theory is based on the premise that both exercise and fear cause many of the same physical reactions. The common physical reactions focused on in the study were increased heart and respirator rates. Research results showed people with anxiety disorder who exercised were less “startled” than those who did not exercise. 

The discussion of the Mental Health benefits derived from exercise has been an ongoing discussion for many years, but recent genetic exploration published in “The Journal of Frailty & Aging” has shown two specific genetic markers , Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (*BDNF) and a serotonin transporter that have shown a notable positive response to exercise.  Additional research published in “The Scientist” has shown that exercise increased activity in the hippocampus of the brain (considered the seat of learning and memory).  This resulted in a higher expression of BDNF. BDNF is thought to promote brain health, and that higher levels correlate with improved cognitive performance in mice and humans. Low levels of BDNF have also been a contributor to degenerative diseases and depression. These levels naturally decline with age, which is another reason exercise is vital for maintaining independence and competency throughout the aging process. Based on these findings, clinicians have begun prescribing exercise to patients with neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s as well as people with other brain disorders, such as epilepsy.

What we can learn from all this research is that exercise is good for our mental health and brain function. Hitting the gym is a win all the way around! Exercising is good for both your physical and mental wellbeing.  This leaves us with NO excuse not to prioritize workout time, and with one of our amazing trainers at MJ Fit, you will be in great hands!  The only choice you need make is the the type of activity you choose to perform to keep you happy, healthy, smart, and competent!

Additional Sources Sleiman, S.F. et al. (2016) Exercise promotes the expression of brain derived neurotrophic factor ( BDNF) through the action of the ketone body B-hydrixybutyrate. E Life

Additional Resources regarding Epigenetics and BDNF are NYY Langone Medical Center – Mice on Wheels Show scientists how exercise benefits their brains. EurekAlert. 2 June 2016 Web