I remember the first time I stepped foot inside a gym. It was terrifying for me. I didn't know how to use any equipment and everywhere I looked, the people I saw seemed to have walked out of a fitness magazine. Tummies flat, hair done and some girls even had a full face of make up on (I didn't get it.) Don’t you sweat it off?
My thoughts ranged from, Why are these people here all the way to Is this a fashion Parade to OMG I am going to fall on my face and everyone is looking at me. They are all going to laugh. This is not for me.
The start for me was dismal. I stuck to the treadmill because all you have to do is walk straight, and if you are feeling brave you crank the incline up and do a little jogging. My jogging is walking swiftly for most.
I had to drag myself to go initially. It didn't come naturally to me and I still had not a farting clue as to how to do any weights or any toning. Which is what I actually wanted to do. I wanted to be able to wear those strap tops with no sleeves and feel confident. I ended up asking my partner if he would join me at the gym and he agreed. We were both newbies to a gym but he had exercised plenty before so I felt more confident going with him. He knew what to do so he started to teach me how to do things I never thought I would ever be able to do. He challenged me to do weights and lunges and squats. Everything I saw other girls doing but was too afraid to try.
After doing this for a few months I realized that in general my mental health seemed to have taken a shift. I was less focused on the negative, nagging in my brain and more focused on becoming stronger and improving my general health. When I started seeing results, is when I really started to feel good. I knew I was becoming stronger and I pushed myself a bit more every day. I also realized that nobody, not a single person in the gym actually cares about what you are doing.
Yes, now and then a guy or girl might check you out but for the most part everyone is too busy working on their bodies to focus on you and if you are looking silly doing a burpee. Nobody cares. At the beginning I was convinced that I was being stared at because I clearly had no idea what I was doing. It could not be more obvious if you printed a sticker and stuck it on my forehead. Eventually I realized that sometimes people may seem like they are focusing on you but really, they are just in their own world, music blaring in their ears.
I was always told that physical activity is thought to cause chemical changes in the brain, which can help to positively change our mood. So I started to do a little research on exactly how it works and why I was noticeably feeling more energized and in general more mentally ''stable''.
Some scientists think being active can improve well-being because it brings about a sense of greater self-esteem, self-control, and the ability to rise to a challenge.
Endorphins and other neurotransmitters
The first thing you might think of when it comes to exercise and depression is what is commonly known as “runner’s high.” This describes the release of endorphins that your brain experiences when you do physical activity. Endorphins are a type of neurotransmitter, or chemical messenger. They help relieve pain and stress.
Endorphins are only one of many neurotransmitters released when you exercise. Physical activity also stimulates the release of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. These brain chemicals play an important part in regulating your mood.
For example, regular exercise can positively impact serotonin levels in your brain (every bit helps). Raising your levels of serotonin boosts your mood and overall sense of well-being. It can also help improve your appetite and sleep cycles, which are often negatively affected by depression.
Regular exercise also helps balance your body’s level of stress hormones, such as adrenaline. Adrenaline plays a crucial role in your fight-or-flight response, although too much of it can damage your health.
Whether you’re experiencing a simple case of the Monday blues or more persistent symptoms of depression, exercise in general can help boost your mood.
Other mental health benefits of exercise
Exercise can have other mental health benefits too. For example, focusing on your body’s movements during exercise may help distract you from any worries you may have and improve your confidence as it does for me. Setting and meeting exercise-related goals may also boost sense of control.
When you exercise with other people, it can provide mood-boosting social benefits. For example, consider walking in the park, taking a yoga class, or joining a recreational sport team with a friend or family member. Exercise classes can also be a good place to meet new people. You can enjoy the physical stimulation of a workout, while getting social stimulation too. I am not the most social person, but just from going to the gym I have met great new people.
A range of factors can contribute to depression. Your brain chemistry is an important one. In many cases, you can improve your brain chemistry with something as simple as regular exercise. Getting 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week is an important part of staying healthy. It can boost your mood and energy, while strengthening your muscles, lungs, and heart and has proven to be hugely beneficial to mental health. I have seen the benefits, you can too!