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Is the gym really therapy?

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Does exercise really improve your mental health? Photo Credit: Google Images

Q: We’ve heard the common phrase, “exercise is good for your mind and soul,” but is it actually true?

A phrase thrown around by any common gym rat, “exercise is good for your mind and soul.” It’s what they say to try to get you off the couch and on your feet. 

These people have been trying for years to convince the general public to be as active and fit as they are. And even though the phrase is cliche, there is truth behind it.

Studies have shown that there is a direct correlation between exercise and mental health. People who are more active in their lives experience less stress and mental load. 

“Yeah, I’d rather stay home on the couch than workout, but when I skip it I always end up feeling worse,” said Rhys Foulke, whose daily routine includes a two hour trip to VENT fitness. 

The science behind it:

Getting into the gym is like a high school senior trying to get to school in the morning; you’re tired, have no motivation, and think it’s pointless. 

Several studies have shown that the brain physically reacts to your body exercising. Professor and neuroscientist, Wendy Suzuk, explains in a recent report that exercise directly impacts the chemicals in your brain.

“The levels of chemicals in the brain, such as serotonin, stress hormones and endorphins, change when you exercise. Regular exercise can help you sleep better. And good sleep helps you manage your mood. Exercise can improve your sense of control, coping ability and self-esteem,” she said.

It only takes a few minutes of moving your body for these direct impacts to be present. Any physical activity will release these “feel good” chemicals that leave your mind at peace. 

“These brain chemicals leave you feeling happier, more relaxed and less anxious. You also may feel better about your appearance and yourself when you exercise regularly, which can boost your confidence and improve your self-esteem,” said Suzuk. 

We can share all the facts and science we want, but how does it really unfold on the average person? 

Real life application:

There’s a large difference in workout between a casual exerciser and a serious gym rat, regardless, the mental impacts are consistent. 

Student-athlete, Joseph Allen, who has soccer practice three times a week, and weightlifter, Rhys Foulke, who spends days and nights in the gym, both experience the same post workout mentalities. 

“Whenever I’ve had a stressful day or have a lot on my mind, it all goes away while I’m at the gym,” said Foulke. 

Allen agrees with these emotions. He says he knows he’s leaving a good impact on his body, and having fun while doing it. So he always feels happier after his practices. 

When the boys skip a workout, the opposite effect occurs. They always end up regretting their decision and feeling worse about themselves. 

“I feel unproductive and like I’m on withdrawal. I also feel weaker by the second. It’s like I have more cloudiness and just get down about life. When I skip a workout I can’t focus throughout my day and I just feel  unaccomplished,” said Foulke. 

These symptoms show the effect of the lack of feel good chemicals being stimulated from exercising. 

You may say it’s because of the amount he exercises that makes the withdrawal so strong, but that wouldn’t explain why Allen faces the same battles.

“I try not to skip practices because I feel like I’m missing out on getting better. I just feel really lazy, like there is something else I should be doing,” said Allen. 

This lines up with the science from the studies; people are genuinely impacted mentally from their workout. 

So, is the cliche phrase actually true? Signs point to yes, exercise really is good for your mind and soul.

“Working out genuinely can be a form of therapy for me, it keeps my mind at ease,” said Foulke.

 

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