Direct from
Dr. Lowenstein

Ask Dr. Lowenstein: What’s the relationship between exercise and mental health?

You’ve heard it said that exercise can improve your mood. But how is that possible when you’re depressed and struggling to get out of bed?

Here’s how it works: When you exercise, your body releases endorphins, which are a group of hormones, or chemicals. The endorphins activate opioid receptors in the brain, resulting in decreased pain and an increased feeling of euphoria or wellbeing. Exercise is one way to release endorphins. There are others, but several studies have shown that regular exercise can help ease feelings of depression and anxiety.

Keep in mind that engaging in any form of physical activity has the added benefit of disrupting the cycle of negative thoughts that may be consuming you. Simply put, it takes your mind off things. It’s important to point out that what we’re really talking about, in many cases, is physical activity, which doesn’t need to be rigorous exercise such as running or lifting weights. Walking, gardening, cleaning and other less-intensive activities offer similar benefits when trying to improve your mood.

Most people who exercise or engage in physical activity at any level start to feel better almost immediately. The real challenge is getting started – especially if you’re in the depths of depression. Living in a cold-weather climate can be an added barrier to overcome. The trick is to select an activity that you enjoy, which greatly increases the likelihood of following through.

Consistency is also important, although you shouldn’t quit just because you miss a day. Strive for 30 minutes of exercise a day for three to five days a week. If that’s not possible or you’re just starting out, devoting smaller amounts of time can still make a difference. Looking for a quicker fix? Opt for more vigorous activities such as swimming or riding a bike. The important thing is to choose something that works for you.

P.S. – Many people I talk to are walking outside even during the cold-weather months. They like the added benefit of being outdoors, especially during the pandemic. It’s not that hard once you get used to it. Bundle up, start moving, and before long you won’t be thinking about the cold.

Dr. David Lowenstein is a Columbus, Ohio-based psychologist with more than 35 years of experience. He conducts individual, family, and group therapy sessions in his German Village office and also via telehealth. Dr. Lowenstein is also available for expert forensic testimony, and for educational workshops and presentations. He is frequently called upon as an expert source for print, radio, and broadcast media. Contact Dr. Lowenstein at Lowenstein & Associates, 691 South Fifth Street, Columbus, Ohio, 43206, or call 614.443.6155 or 614.444.0432.