Certain recent research studies suggest that a few changes in brain triggered by physical exercise may help reduced cigarette carvings. Exercise alters the way the brain processes information in smokers. Scientists use functional magnetic resonance imaging to investigate the brain changes. Perhaps exercise results in mood elevation due to increase in dopamine—the brain chemical or neurotransmitter. The other theory is that exercise cause a shift in the blood flow to areas of the brain, which is less involved in anticipation of reward and pleasure created by smoking images. Walking, jogging or cycling especially at the time of carving may help a smoker kick the habit.
Exercise can positively impact an addict, be it alcohol or drugs. It fills time and keeps the person’s mind busy. Being fit boosts confidence and gives the recovering addict a goal to work towards. Exercise can ease the symptoms of anxiety and depression, which accompany addiction as if releases Endorphins (the ‘feel good’ chemicals in the brain) and also increases the levels of serotonin and dopamine (neurotransmitters in the brain). The good part is the overall feeling of calm and a ‘runners high’, which is created by exercise.
A growing volume of research shows that exercise eases symptoms of depression and anxiety. In addition to the medication or psychotherapy in case of severe depression, doctors prescribe a small dose of exercise too. Although exercise is not a cure for depression, the psychological and physical benefits are plenty.
Research suggests 30 minutes of exercise every day for at least three to five days a week to improve depression symptoms. For people under depression, even 10-15 minutes of exercise helps boost the mood. The mechanism of how exercise reduces depression is not yet understood. However, exercise is known to raise neurotransmitters or brain chemicals in the brain. This includes increase in the levels of Endorphins (the mood enhancing brain chemicals), which aid in releasing muscle tension, giving you good sleep and reducing the levels of stress hormone cortisol. The increase in temperature that exercises cause can be calming. The changes in neurotransmitters bring about improvement in irritability, stress, sadness, fatigue anger and feeling of hopelessness.
The exercise benefits for anxiety and depression can be aplenty, like
• Physical activity gives you a sense of confidence and accomplishment; you feel better about your self-worth.
• Exercise can be a good distraction for depressed people; it can shift focus from unpleasant thoughts to something more pleasant.
• Depression leads to isolation. Working out in a gym or exercising in company helps you meet people.
• Exercise in a positive coping strategy. Instead of drowning your sorrows in alcohol and brooding alone, exercise is an apt choice.
Coping with Stress
Stress and tension have become a part and parcel of everyone’s daily life nowadays. Occasional stress is not everyone’s daily life nowadays. Occasional stress is not harmful but continual stress can be detrimental to your health. Stress induces the release of hormone adrenaline in the blood, which then speeds up the heart and increases blood pressure. When you experience depression, the levels of neurotransmitters, chemicals in the brain—serotonin, norepinephrine, or both –may be out of sync. Exercise can help synchronize those brain chemicals. Exercise also stimulates the production of endorphin’s, the neurotransmitters that produce feeling of well-being; provide for natural pain relief, and help you relax.
So now when you have stressful day today and you need to blow off some steam, a brisk 30- minutes walk or a workout at the gym can help you calm down.
Added Benefits of Exercise
To review the numerous benefits of exercise, here is a list of the few:
• Helps in better sleeping patterns—Moderate exercise not only helps you to maintain a physical and mental health but aids you in relaxing and sleeping better. The National Sleep Foundation, USA reports that afternoon exercise can help you get good sleep at night. However, vigorous exercise nearing bedtime can have reverse effects and keep you awake for long. Research studies have also shown that morning fitness regime is good to get a snooze. And yet working out in the evenings has little improvement in sleep patterns. In fact, there have been fewer studies, which can conclusively prove the best time to exercise. The point here is that no matter when you exercise, your ability to fall asleep improves and you get a restful sleep.
• Helps in reducing the urge for a puff—Even a brief workout can give you adrenaline rush and stress relief that smokers may feel they get from tobacco. Therefore, to help reduce the urge to smoke or to kick the habit; exercise is recommended by several smoking cessation programmes.
• Gives a brain boost—Regular exercisers experience improvement in their mental skills and memory. Reports have also shown that aerobic exercises boost creativity. Also, physically fit persons are generally more efficient than their counterparts.
• Extends job-oriented fitness— Many individuals need or want to be fit or want to achieve the body shape they aspire because of the job they do, for instance police officers, gym instructors, sportsmen, athletes, actors and so on. A structured supervised training program at a specialized facility, such as gym or a training center is a must for such people and they may need to exercise at a higher intensity. The fitness training can include circuits, running and weight-training.
• Gives a ‘feel good’ feeling—Physical activity at any age imparts psychological benefits. The feeling following a workout is often described as ‘euphoric’. Psychological benefits of exercise help you live a longer life. If you look good, and you feel better, you will be more confident and will have a greater self-esteem.
Studies also suggest that exercise can increase the life expectancy. In a study by Harvard graduates, it was observed that people who burned 2,000 or more calories a week by walking, jogging, climbing stairs or playing sports lived an average of one to two years longer than those who burned fewer than 500 calories a week by exercising. Most importantly, people who exercise daily are fit and hence are more likely to live longer and that too independently and with a better quality of life.