By: Dr. Christine Weidemann, PT, DPT, OCS
We have all heard of the benefits of exercises in regards to our physical health with decreasing the risk of hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and osteoporosis (just to name a few benefits) (Edenfield). However, exercise can also help with improving our mindset.
Depression and stress are two examples of factors which can negatively impact our lives. In a study by Deslandes, et al, the effect of exercise on brain functioning was emphasized with noting neurotransmitter release, neurotrophic factor and neurogenesis, and cerebral blood flow alteration. With the increase of different neurotrophic factors, neurogenesis, angiogenesis, and plasticity, exercise can help with activities such as learning and modulation of depression. Exercise also increases cerebral blood flow which helps improve oxygen and glucose uptake. According to Deslandes, et al, stress, depression, and aging decrease neurotrophic expression and neurogenesis in the brain. Therefore, exercise can help decrease these effects.
Studies have also shown additional benefits of exercise including: a positive relationship of exercise on Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson's disease (Edenfield); increasing antioxidants and DNA repair which help decrease oxidative stress; and helping improve anti-inflammatory cytokines which help the immune system fight stress (Deslandes, et al).
Furthermore, with the sense of well-being with the release of endorphins during exercise, people who are participating in exercise may reach a level of euphoria. This “runner’s high” has been documented in several studies (Boecker, et al). Running is not the only exercise that results in such elevated moods, but also other moderate to high-level intensity workouts have similar effects. Thus the elevated serum β-endorphin concentrations induced by exercise have been linked to several psychological and physiological changes, including mood state changes and “exercise-induced euphoria” (Deslandes, et al). This can also result in an elevated mood and increased self-esteem, further resulting in benefits from exercise.
Moreover, these elevated levels of endorphins, which act as analgesics, can help with altered pain perception. With the endorphins binding to certain neurotransmitters, the decrease in pain perception may be similar to that of taking pain medications without the side effects of certain medications.
In conclusion, cardiovascular exercise can help combat depression and stress while increasing learning ability, elevating mood changes, and decreasing pain perception.
Boecker H, Sprenger T, Spilker ME, et al: The Runner’s High: opioidergic mechanisms in the human brain. Cereb Cortex 2008; 18: 2523-2531
Cooney GM, et al: Exercise for depression (review). Cochrane Library 2013;
Deslandes, A, et al: Exercise and Mental Health: Many Reasons to Move. Neuropsychobiology 2009; 59: 191-198.
Edenfield, TM et al: Exercise and stress reduction. The handbook of stress science: Biology, psychology, and health 2011; 301-319
Harbor V and Sutton J: Endorphins and Exercise. Sports Medicine 2012; 1: 154-171