"From a metabolic standpoint, vigorous exercise is the most demanding activity the brain encounters, much more intense than calculus or chess, but nobody knows what happens with all that energy. Apparently, one of the things it's doing is making more neurotransmitters."
-Richard Maddock, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, UC Davis
And what exactly are these neurotransmitters (NT) that exercise is regenerating? Glutamate and GABA, key NT that are depleted in patients who are feeling... you guessed it... depressed.
It's no big secret that moving can change your mood. These days no one is a stranger to the concept of endorphins. Many studies have shown that regular exercise boosts mood and reduces symptoms of depression as well as - if not better than - traditional antidepressant medications.
There is also emerging research (found here on the Harvard Health Blog ) that shows improvements in symptoms of ADHD with moderate-intensity exercise as well as the power of meditative movement (yoga and some martial arts) to improve anxiety by mastering body and breath awareness.
What I found to be the most interesting study mentioned in the Harvard Health Blog was one analyzing the effects of synchronized movement, aptly titled: Sync or sink? Interpersonal synchrony impacts self-esteem (geek out with me with the full text journal article available here!). "Synchronizing your movement with others makes you like them more. You also cooperate more with them and feel more charitable toward them. In fact, movement synchrony can make it easier to remember what people say and to recall what they look like. This was the first study to show that it makes you feel better about yourself too." So the next time you're in that dark room pedaling to the beat of the music, realize that the hype is real (it's not a cult). What better reason to get your butt to SoulCycle and check out my girl Liz Chestang whose positively infectious energy will have you tapping back with 40 of your new best friends?! Liz sees this played out all the time in the sweaty candlelit room:
"I see how moving in synchronization helps people every day. In my classes, we move to the beat of the music, all together. When we move as a unit, there’s a sense of belonging to a team, and accomplishing something as one big, sweaty family. Feeling like we’re a part of a community gives us purpose. Purpose gives us confidence! I wouldn’t trade my spot in my sweaty family for anything."
And it boils down to more than just your feel-good neurotransmitters: endorphins, serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin. Physiology and Pharmacology researcher Jorge Ruas told Real Simple: "Our initial research hypothesis was that trained muscle would produce a substance with beneficial effects on the brain. We actually found the opposite: well-trained muscle produces an enzyme that purges the body of harmful substances." Talk about a double whammy: get your endorphins flowing while flushing out the garbage!
Other benefits Ruas and his team noted:
- triggering creativity (up to a 60% increase)
- bulking up on your brain's gray matter in the frontal cortex (where your decision-making, problem-solving, emotional regulation, and behavior control go down)
- as well as the temporal (think emory, emotions, hearing, language)
- and parietal (synthesizing thoughts) cortices.
Up-regulation of your cognitive function, makes you a better multitasker and helps you process information at a more efficient level, which is a good reason to pop into a HIIT class (like those offered at the Fhitting Room - instructor recommendation: Jess Sims, who will be featured here for an entire week later this month!) before a big meeting at work.
And on a less anatomical note, a Gallup poll this year revealed that 70% of daily exercisers have a positive self image compared to 50% of those who only hit the gym once per week. And since we can't help but be barraged with picture-perfect imagery in this highly curated world, I think there's a lot to be said for developing and maintaining a positive self-image.
How do I know when I need a hefty dose of Movement as Medicine? When I don't want to exercise. My hack? A mind map. By identifying some of the negative emotions that stifle my motivation, I'm able to come up with a list of activities that turn that frown upside down. Here's an example:
Not to say that there isn't a GREAT DEAL of importance to allowing ourselves to feel and experience the full range of emotions (stay tuned for a blog post later this month on #allthefeels), but in the spirit of feel-good movement as your all natural mood enhancer, let's focus on the positive for today.
What are you favorite ways to use Movement as Medicine and manifest a better mood? Comment below to let me know!