I’ve never taken medicine for my tics or anxiety, but during periods of time where they’re worse, the thought does cross my mind. I think the one of the main reasons I’ve been able to stay off medication has been because of exercise.
I often have what’s called a “tic burst” after work, something many people with Tourettes experience. It’s where you hold in many of your tics (often unconsciously) while you’re in public, but after you’re done with the event, you let out a bunch of tics all at once. Similarly, my anxiety attacks creep up on me at odd times. In church, at school, at home, it depends on the day. *Just when I’m considering visiting my doctor, however, I find that for me, exercise saves the day over and over again.
What is it about exercise that helps bring about the same effects as some medications? How does exercise alleviate so many mental health symptoms? The answers are in neurotransmitters.
About.com describes the neurotransmitter as a, “chemical messenger that carries, boosts and modulates signals between neurons and other cells in the body.” I’m sure you’ve seen lots of variations of this picture in your health class in high school, but here’s a simple reminder of what a neurotransmitter is, according to the article.
Increasing Serotonin (the Happy Brain Chemical)
According to Mental News Today, Princeton University describes Serotonin as a “happiness hormone because it contributes to feelings of well-being.” Serotonin seems to be produced in larger amounts than normal during exercise. US News Today’s article, “7 Mind-Blowing Benefits of Exerise,” calls Serotonin a ” ‘soothing’ brain chemical’ ” that’s increased during exercise. Psychology Today’s article, “Boosting Your Serotonin Activity,” says that exercise is one of four ways to raise Serotonin articles. (The others, according to the article, are sunlight, massage, and recalling happy memories.)
Drugs used to fight anxiety and depression often target Serotonin levels in the brain in attempts to correct chemical imbalances there, according to Mayo Clinic’s article, “Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).” WebMD’s article, “Antidepressants to Treat Depression” also says that SNRIs (Serotonin and Norepinerphine Reutake Inhibitors) work to raise Serotonin levels in the brain, as well as another brain chemical, Norepinephrine.
Dopamine (The Pleasure Brain Chemical)
Psychology Today’s article, “The Plunge of Pleasure,” describes the neurotransmitter as, “responsible for the highs of infatuation, new love, joy, self-confidence, and motivation.” Psychologist World’s article, “Dopamine Transmitter” says that Dopamine, “providing feelings of enjoyment and reinforcement to motivate us to do, or continue doing, certain activities,” can be produced by food, sex, and drugs like Cocaine. Rather than loading up on illegal drugs, however, exercise is a much healthier option for production of this special chemical.
“By increasing the amount of dopamine,” Livstrong.com’s article, “Does Exercise Release Dopamine?” says, “in certain regions of the brain, exercise can exert a number of health benefits that can promote positive well-being and even counter negative mental states. The Huffington Post’s article, “13 Mental Health Benefits Of Exercise” says that exercise’s release in dopamine can even help control addiction, as the extra dopamine fills the emotional need that addicts might try to find through abusive substances.
Epinephrine (a.k.a. Adrenaline)
When we experience stress in our lives, our bodies automatically produce the “fight or flight” checmical, Adrenaline. News Medical’s article, “What is Epinephrine (Adrenaline)?”, says this about Epinephrine. “Specifically, once a threat is perceived, a signal is sent to the brain. The brain then sends nerve impulses to the adrenal gland in the kidneys. When the nerve signal reaches the adrenal gland, chromaffin cells, in the medulla of the adrenal gland, release epinephrine.”
The reason exercising can help lower anxiety is because we can use the extra “rush” we get from the Adrenaline to fuel our workout, according to Fitday.com’s article, “The Relationship between Adrenaline and Stress.” , This means we’re not feeling the pressure of this chemical when we get done working out. We’ve let it go! (Does anyone else feel a song coming on?)
Norepinephrine functions similarly to epinephrine, as it’s similar in chemical build, according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica’s article, “Epinephrine and Norepinephrine.” The chemical reason exercise helps regulate norepinephrine is because exercise, “increases the brain’s production of galinin, a peptide neurotransmitter which regulates production of norepinephrine,” according to Livestrong.com’s article, “Natural Ways to Raise Norepinephrine” [emphasis mine].
Just a Quick Note
I want to let everyone know that if your doctor prescribes medicine for depression, anxiety, or any other problem, I’m not in any way suggesting you quit your medicine and rely only on exercise. My point is to explain on a chemical level why exercise is an important way to supplement your healthy lifestyle. Unless your doctor says otherwise, everyone needs to exercise multiple times a week, involving both cardio and strengthening exercises into their regimens.
There is no one correct way to exercise. The best thing you can do is find exercises that are enjoyable to you. Even if you’re not into weight lifting or marathons, there are countless other ways you can work out and enjoy it. (Here are 13 of my personal favorite types of exercise.) It might be challenging at first, but with time, I think you’ll realize how affective regular exercise can really be in relieving stress. And who doesn’t want less stress?
What are some exercises that help you relieve stress? Please share any questions or thoughts in the Comment Box below. Also, don’t forget that if you sign up for my weekly newsletter, you’ll get extra resources on neurological disorders, as well as a gift in thanks for signing up. Thanks for reading!