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The Role of Exercise in Mental Health

By Mike Jacquart

I am not a clinician or dietitian, but I do know from my own experiences that exercise plays a role in our mental health – perhaps an important one.

I have suffered from depression, sometimes for extensive periods, but even during my darkest days I was often successful at finding time to exercise – more specifically, riding my bicycle. My line of thinking was, there were a LOT of things out of my control, but one thing I DID have control over, was whether or not to ride my bike. I felt that if I did not accomplish anything else that particular day, I could at the very least say that I got some exercise on my bike, usually for three miles, sometimes longer. (Don’t give me too much credit for this – physical conditions have since limited me to walking right now, but hey, it's all good, right?)

The Huffington Post lists 13 mental health benefits of exercise at I don’t particularly agree with all of them, but I definitely concur with some, namely:

* Remember that exercise reduces stress. Many studies allude to this. For one thing, exercise increases concentrations of norepinephrine, a chemical that can moderate the brain’s response to stress. As much stress as most of us seem to be under in today’s fast-paced society, it would seem that stress-reduction alone is a good reason to exercise.

* Enjoy the great outdoors. I am very fortunate to live in a small community where a quarter-mile or so out of town, I can be biking near the woods and often sight animals such as deer, turkey, and others. I also like riding a stationary bike indoors when it’s cold, rainy, or snowy out, but taking in the great outdoors is definitely one of the best parts about bike riding. But let’s face it, for Northerners like myself, indoor exercise alone can get rather dull until the temps warm up this time of year. One more benefit: You notice a LOT more of your surroundings when you’re going much slower, on a bike, as opposed to whizzing by on the same roads with your car.

* Tap into your creative side. Feeling uninspired in your cubicle or home office? Sometimes a break in routine such as going for a walk, bike ride, or gardening, for starters, can relax yourself sufficiently enough that ideas that were simply not coming to light sitting at a keyboard, just might pop into your brain when you’re out and about, doing something. It's worked for me!

* Enhance happy chemicals. I mentioned, I think this is THE most important, and yet overlooked, reason to exercise! “Exercise releases endorphins, which create feelings of happiness and euphoria. Studies have shown that exercise can even alleviate symptoms among the clinically depressed. For this reason, docs recommend that people suffering from depression or anxiety (or those who are just feeling blue) pencil in plenty of gym time. In some cases, exercise can be just as effective as antidepressant pills in treating depression.” (Italics mine; the effects of exercise may vary widely from person to person.)

* Don’t worry about not exercising a lot. Some people get the notion that if they’re not big exercise enthusiasts, exercising isn’t worth the time. Not true! Studies have shown that exercising for just 30 minutes several times a week can boost overall mood. Sure, more than that is better, but something is better than nothing!

So there you have it. Get out there and exercise – the benefits are mental as well as physical. If someone who can be content being a couch potato like me can do it, anyone can. Like a lot of things, it’s often a case of mind over matter, and your mind matters. But summer is more than half over, so hurry up and get started!

Mike Jacquart edited and later published the “Employee Assistance Report” newsletter and edited the quarterly magazine, “Journal of Employee Assistance” for EAPA for 12 years. He is currently working as a book author but also accepts requests for select writing and editing projects. In addition to mental health, and employee assistance and workplace trends and topics, Mike has written about many other topics including education, child care, foster care, women in tech, pet behavior, adult care, and employment for people with disabilities. To learn more, contact him at or cell (715-200-1143).

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