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Exercise and Mood

May 30, 20234 min read

As a Nationally Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC) food, nutrition, and what we put into our bodies is truly important to me. My own health changed dramatically when I learned what foods actually supported my health versus what I was consuming. Food and its health benefits is a focus not only for me, but also for my clients. Even though I have been studying for years how nutrition and eating patterns influences our general health, I am continually reminded about the mind-body connection and its effects upon optimal health. Bodies are made to move, not to stagnate. A healthy body + nourishing food sets the stage for the next chapter of optimal health: movement. Getting out of our heads and into our bodies promotes a positive feedback loop for a balanced mind.

Study after study reports that in healthy individuals exercise can boost mood and cognitive function. Even if you think, "I’m healthy WITHOUT exercising”, I’m here to tell you that movement and exercise has so many benefits beyond just a healthy body. Our minds, our grey matter thrives when we indulge our limbs and muscle with movement. Exercise, or what I like to call movement, is not only a catalyst for better physical health and staving off chronic disease, but is also a magic bullet for mood and resiliency. Why? There are many reasons. When we exercise or move, we release endorphins, those feel good hormones. Our hearts begin pumping blood, circulating oxygen and nutrients throughout our bodies. Movement is the end equation of nourishing our body with healthy food.

Every day, through the existence of living, our bodies creates inflammation or free radicals. Consumming whole foods, fresh vegetables and fruit helps our body to fight that inflammation, but movement is truly the magic bullet, pulling all of our healthy habits into the realm of optimal health. Movement also gives us satisfaction both mentally and physically, helping us lowers inflammation and increasing our mood and resiliency for stress. There is an inverse relationship to increased movement boosting mood and resiliency while lowering stress, tension and depression.

In an older 1994 study, Thayer R.E. (et al.) shows that “exercise appears to be the most efffective mood-regulating behavior, and the best general strategy to change a bad mood”. Pro-inflammatory cytokines, a signaling molecule that promotes inflammation, have been linked to depression (Himmerich et al. 2019). In 2018 Paolucci et al. studied the effect of exercise on randomly chosen, healthy University students. University students are well known to experience depression and higher perceived psychological stress due to increased workload. The study showed that moderate intensity exercise was shown to be the most beneficial in lowering depressive symtpoms and TNF-a, an inflammatory cytokine, lowering depressive symptoms. Moving the body has also been shown to increase functional connectivity between the prefrontal cortex (or executive functioning part of our brain), the posterior cortex (or action part of our brain), memory and learning. This might expalin why, when you have hit a motivation snag, lack creativity, or have hit a wall while studying for an exam, taking a break to stretch your legs, enrolling in an exercise class at lunch, or doing a powerwalk through the park, boosts not only your mood, but cerebral obstacles are easier to tackle. Movement is offering you an increase in the brain’s plasticity and connection, resulting in better connecting of thoughts, ideas, memory, and creativity, making accomplishing that deck of slides, or accomplishing the memorization of terms you were trying to remember easier.

One thing even my clients have noticed about movement, and scientific studies agree, enjoying the activity is paramount. Think of movement as less “exercise” based and more getting out of one’s head and into the body into something you truly enjoy is the easiest way to get mood lifting benefits. Whether it’s pickleball or badminton with friends, a hike in nature, a Zumba class, jumping on a trampoline - something that you looks forward to and feels amazing afterwards, will become a catalyst for more in the future. And research supports this link between the reward of moving and the continuation of getting movement into your life.

I find that being grateful for our everything our body can do, feeling powerful and alive as we move and enjoy ourselves builds confidence and resiliency, not only in the body, but in the mind. While physiologically inflammation is lowered with movement through the release of powerful antioxidants and dopamine, I’m enjoying the experience. I find that I don’t have think about how I feel better when I get to love, I do it because I get to feel alive and grateful that I have a body that moves and that puts me into a fantastic mood.

Basso, J.C. and Suziki, W.A.’s 2017reivew entitled “The Effects of Acute Exercise on Mood, Cognition, Neurophysiology, and Neurochemical Pathways: A Review”

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