How does exercise impact mental health?


Exercise has a profound impact on mental health through various mechanisms:

  1. Mood Enhancement: Regular aerobic exercise can consistently boost mood, decrease anxiety, depression, and hostility 1. The release of neurochemicals like dopamine, serotonin, and noradrenaline promotes a good mood and reduces stress and anxiety 2.

  2. Cognitive Function: Exercise improves brain function by increasing blood flow to the brain, which supports brain health and organ function. These benefits include better prefrontal cortex function, enhanced attention, and memory improvements 3 1. The release of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (Bdnf) from aerobic exercise helps grow new neurons in the hippocampus, aiding memory and cognitive function 2.

    Exercise and Brain Health

    Andrew and Wendy discuss the effects of exercise on brain health, including acute effects such as improved mood, prefrontal function, and reaction time. Wendy shares results from her lab, including decreased anxiety and depression, improved performance on attention tasks, and a feeling of increased energy, with consistent effects across age groups. The immediate effects of exercise can last up to 2 hours after a workout.

    Huberman Lab

    Dr. Wendy Suzuki: Boost Attention & Memory with Science-Based Tools | Huberman Lab Podcast #73
  3. Short-term Cognitive Benefits: Acute effects of exercise can enhance prefrontal function and reaction time immediately after a workout. These benefits can last up to two hours after exercise 1.

  4. Stress Reduction: Exercise, particularly resistance training, releases hormones and growth factors that support the health of existing neurons and limit inflammatory cytokines, providing a natural anti-inflammatory response and promoting overall brain health 3.

  5. Belief Effects: Mindset during exercise also plays a significant role. Believing in the health benefits of physical activity can enhance the positive outcomes of exercise. A study demonstrated that hotel staff who were informed that their physical tasks were beneficial to their health experienced greater health improvements than those who weren’t given this information 4.

Incorporating both endurance and strength training into a weekly routine maximizes these mental health benefits. Even small amounts of exercise, such as a 10-minute walk, can significantly improve mood and brain function 5.