Psychological Benefits of Exercise

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Physical activity, in its many forms, has been shown to have many positive affects on the body and mind. The many benefits include: 1) helping to stimulate the mind, 2) increasing feelings of well being, 3) reducing cholesterol, 4) helping to regulate blood pressure, 5) reducing feelings of anxiety, 6) improving quality of life, 7) reducing symptoms of Alzheimer's and Rheumatoid Arthritis, and 8) reducing levels of visceral fat which lowers the risk of developing type II diabetes. Many of the benefits of exercise will be discussed in the following pages as discovered in peer reviewed research studies. This paper will concentrate on the affect of exercise on the human mind and exactly how exercise helps to stimulate the brain and increase feelings of well-being. Many research applications have looked at the profound role serotonin plays in regulating mood and the affect exercise has on the body's ability to produce increased amounts of serotonin. Other research has looked at levels of phenylethylamine before and after exercise and has concluded that increased levels result in what many have termed the "runners high". This researcher believes that it is a combination of both serotonin and phenyethylamine that contribute to feelings of well being after periods of physical activity.

Regular physical activity may reduce depression and anxiety and improve mood. Exercising may even be linked with enhancing creativity and imagination. According to a study done on the affect of exercise on obese young women, exercise reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression and fosters improvements in mood and feelings of well-being. (4) In this study, 24 obese subjects completed a 26 week lifestyle modification program consisting of a hypocaloric (decreased calorie) diet in addition to moderate-intensity exercise. The subjects all had a BMI exceeding 30 but not exceeding 40. What is a BMI? BMI stands for body mass index. It is one of the main ways that the health industry determines if an individual is overweight. BMI is calculated by dividing a person's weight (in kilograms) by his or her height (in meters, squared). This can give a researcher an idea of body density or thickness. Higher BMI's have been correlated with all sorts of health risks. This study showed that not only did exercise and a hypocaloric diet have all sorts of positive affects on reducing the levels of visceral fat, and thus insulin resistance, it also had a positive affect on the subjects feelings of well being and mood. Another study recently concluded the same findings. 92 subjects were recruited through the National Wheelchair Basketball association to complete this study. The study's objective was to find a positive correlation between physical activity and emotional well being. Of the 92 subjects who started the study, 48 subjects (13 women, 35 men) completed all phases of the study. The study concluded that no matter what else might have been going on in the subjects life, on days that they exercised the subjects had increased positive mood and decreased negative mood. (3) The same thing was concluded in a recent study published in the Journal of Multiple Sclerosis. The study showed that after eight weeks of supervised resistance training on conventional gym equipment, the subjects had stronger muscles, could walk better, and reported less overall fatigue and disability. (6) This proved to be very empowering for the subjects in the study as they began to concentrate less on the illness and more on wellness. So not only did it have a physical impact, but it had a great emotional impact as well. Subjects reported a major decrease in depression as a result of increased physical activity.

Now that we've looked at numerous studies on exercise and it's mood enhancing ability. How is all this done? How does it all work? What kind of affect does exercise really have on the body? Well, brief periods of intense training or moderate aerobic workouts...
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