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Most of us already appreciate that physical activity is a huge contributing factor to our overall health and well-being. Not only is exercise beneficial for our bodies, it is vital for achieving optimal mental health! Although we may be keenly aware that exercise is extremely important, it takes a great deal of effort, commitment, and motivation to incorporate an exercise program into our daily routine.

High stress levels impair our nervous system and directly impact our mental functioning, which puts us at risk for anxiety and depression. Just 20 minutes of vigorous exercise can immediately lower those stress hormones. It works like this:

  • Elevating the heart rate through exercise increases the levels of neurochemicals known as the “feel-good” hormones–dopamine and norepinephrine.
  • The amount of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, also increases. This substance can repair the damage caused from stress and depression.
  • Also during exercise, opiate-like endorphins and endocannabinoids flood the system, and contribute to a sense of well-being.
  • Just 20 minutes of focused cardio activity, such as jogging or swimming or cycling-can result in an elevated mood that can last for up to 12 hours.

These results are often referred to as a “runner’s high” or the “happiness effect”. In fact, a rise in BDNF has been shown to promote neural growth and repair the damage caused by repeated incidents of stress and depression. An article in SELF magazine reviewed this information. John Ratey, M.D., author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, was quoted in the article: “BDNF, is like Miracle-Gro for your brain.”

After considering numerous scientific explanations, the folks at SELF decided to conduct their own experiment. A small group of NYC women was recruited who initially indicated that they had issues with anxiety, stress, insomnia and just plain felt blah. No one in the group was on a regular exercise program.

A team of clinical psychologists was contacted who joined forces with Laila Sarvarian, who is the head trainer for Camp Gladiator in Dallas. Together, they created an easy to follow six-week program for each woman. The individualized programs were designed to target each subject’s mood problems.

As for the final outcome, the women used phrases like “life-changing” and “body-changing”. One dropped 14 pounds, and all noted an increased feeling of happiness and well-being!

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