Research shows that exercise is one of the top natural remedies for depression, anxiety and insomnia. Exercise helps ease depression symptoms, anxiety and sleeplessness by releasing feel-good brain chemicals, boosting the immune system and increasing body temperature, which has a calming effect on the body.
According to Harvard Medical School, regular exercise improves mood and can even play a role in treating severe depression and anxiety conditions. “A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine divided 156 men and women with depression into three groups. One group took part in an aerobic exercise program, another took the SSRI sertraline (Zoloft), and a third did both. At the 16-week mark, depression had eased in all three groups. About 60%–70% of the people in all three groups could no longer be classed as having major depression. In fact, group scores on two rating scales of depression were essentially the same. This suggests that for those who need or wish to avoid drugs, exercise might be an acceptable substitute for antidepressants.”
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How Exercise Affects the Brain
Exercise provides psychological benefits due to its physiologic effects on the body. How? Depression and other mood disorders are often caused by a deficiency in brain chemicals called neurotrasmitters. When you exercise, there is an increase in the production of these neurotransmitters (serotonin, dopamine and norepinepherine). This boost in the “feel-good” brain chemicals is one reason why physical activity has been reported to reduce depression symptoms and anxiety, and to improve coping with stress.
Secondly, in response to the release of neurotrasmitters the body releases endorphins. Endorphins are natural analgesics; the word endorphin actually means “endogenous + morphine.” Endorphins reduce the perception of pain, which is often why you hear the term, “runner’s high”. The combination of increased neurotransmitters and increased endorphins in the body can leave you feeling better, happier and more energized after a workout.
Last, exercise reduces cortisol, the “stress hormone”. Cortisol secreted by the adrenal glands is responsible for how you handle stress and anxiety. Prolonged increased cortisol levels contribute to blood sugar imbalances, higher blood pressure, impaired cognitive performance, lowered immunity, and increased abdominal fat. High levels of cortisol are also a major contributing factor to insomnia. So, if you know you’re lack of sleep is due to your “mind racing” when you lie down, or if you experience feelings of anxiety and panic at nighttime, exercise may help reduce your cortisol levels so your mind (and body) can get some needed rest.
How to Get Motivated to Exercise
I know what you’re thinking… “I know exercise is good for me, but I just don’t have the motivation to do it.” That’s a common complaint, and motivation is especially difficult when you feel depressed, anxious or tired. In our next article, learn simple steps to help motivate you to overcome your anxieties, get out, and get moving!
 Mayo Clinic.
 Harvard Medical School: Harvard Health Publications.