Exercising helps to tone muscle (including the heart muscle), increase cardiovascular functioning, increase blood flow and oxygen to the brain, burn calories, burn fat, eliminate waste products through perspiration, and boost the immune system. That’s quite a laundry list of benefits that exercising has on our physical health. But what about the psychological or emotional effects of exercise?
Exercising helps to release endorphins in our brains and reduce cortisol levels. “Huh, that’s very interesting,” you say. “But what does it mean?” Well, according to research, endorphins are a naturally occurring chemical in the brain that are similar to opiates in that they relieve pain and produce a soothing or calming effect. Cortisol is another naturally occurring chemical in the brain. But cortisol, unlike endorphins, have negative effects on our bodies.
When a dangerous situation presents itself, our brains produce adrenaline and cortisol, which work together to help the body prepare for a “fight or flight” response; we prepare to either stay and fight, or flee from the situation. However, the body and brain respond similarly to prolonged amounts of stress (such as arguments, stress at home, stress at work, etc.); cortisol levels continue to be high until the stress is relieved. These increased cortisol levels then cause reduced bone formation, increased blood-sugar levels, weakened immune system, increased blood pressure, and increased abdominal fat. Increased cortisol production also reduces serotonin levels in the brain, which may cause depression.
So, the next time you’re having an argument with your romantic partner, stress at work or home, or, you just want to feel better, take some time to get out and exercise. You may just have a happier and healthier life, as well as happier and healthier relationships!