Does COVID-19 have you down or stressed to the max? Have you lost your exercise routine, or did you not have one before all of this madness? I bet you’ve heard about the physical health benefits of exercise before, like losing weight fast, decreasing your blood pressure and cholesterol, increasing your muscle mass, etc. However, exercise and fitness programs can improve your overall mental health, and that is what can lead to real habit change and keep you exercising. Don’t worry, we’re going to get to how it can help your sex drive too.
If you’ve heard that exercise can help you manage stress, that is just the tip of the iceberg. Exercise of any kind can improve mental health by reducing stress, anxiety, depression, negative mood, and increasing cognitive function. Here’s the science behind it- exercise increases blood circulation to the brain, and it influences the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which communicates with several regions of the brain, including the limbic system, which controls motivation and mood; the amygdala, which generates fear in response to stress; and the hippocampus, which plays an important part in memory formation as well as in mood and motivation.
1. Improve sleep and energy:
Multiple studies have shown how regular movement decreases fatigue and as early as 4 weeks into daily movement. When we sleep, our bodies are automatically repairing themselves with the help of growth hormones that are being released. These hormones help to maintain and repair muscle. Sleep aids in refreshing the body’s cells; it helps to eliminate waste from the brain and supports learning and memory. Because exercise can increase energy and improve sleep quality, this can contributes to a decrease in feelings of depression and anxiety.
2. Decrease stress:
Stress in the body can be perceived as a true “threat to survival” so the body responds the same way – shutting down anything that is not vital for survival. Stress causes the body to produce more cortisol, aka “the stress hormone.” Regular exercise has been shown to decrease self-reported anxiety and stress-related disorder symptoms. Even short spurts of exercise can decrease the severity of the stress response, and if you get some movement in before an expected stressful time, it’s even more beneficial
3. Improve mood:
You’ve heard about increases in serotonin and dopamine, “the happy hormones” and I outlined some of the science for improving depression and anxiety above, but exercise has also been found to alleviate symptoms of social withdrawal [1,3]. I don’t know about you, but I can use all the help I can get right now from social withdrawal and loneliness. As we distance ourselves, we’re all suffering a little and need to band together to make each day a little brighter. Exercise is one way to do that, even if we can’t do it together. Human interaction, connection, and feelings of belonging can lead to increased happiness. Since we can’t be in person – take advantage of zoom and other virtual platforms to get that happy community feels.
4. Increase self-esteem:
Exercise has also been found to boost low self-esteem. If you set out to start something new like walking 30 minutes a day and accomplish this regularly, you will be moving the body, getting the primary benefits from a physiologic perspective, but you’ll also feel accomplished. You can set new goals, reach them, and the cycle will continue. Using exercise to focus on your mental health and how you feel instead of weight loss and how you look helps to improve body confidence and positivity.
5. Increase interest in sex:
Now the topic you’ve been waiting for…. Let’s put it all together. It is known that depression leads to decreased libido, so decreasing those feelings can amp up the sex drive. If you have improved sleep, decreased feelings of depression and anxiety, and are becoming more confident, that leads psychologically to more sexual interest. You bring that newfound confidence into the bedroom with you…this may be more interest in yourself or your partner. In either case, this, in turn, can increase those happy love hormones when we connect, and the cycle continues.
Now it’s time to get moving. The type of movement doesn’t matter – studies have shown that the following types of exercise have all improved mental health. Walking, jogging, swimming, cycling, weight lifting, gardening, dancing, and gymnastics. We all have feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression at different times in our lives, but some people battle these symptoms every day.
So, it’s good to know that while I love working through a weight lifting program block and you might like training for a marathon, 30 minutes most days of movement like walking is enough to get these benefits. Those 30 minutes do not need to be continuous; three 10-minute walks are just as effective.
So, start today, start off small, and find a movement you love. Get in touch with those feelings~ journal your attendance and progress, and be proud of yourself!