An old joke captures the value of exercise perfectly:
“We have found the miracle cure for depression, anxiety, obesity, high blood pressure, ADHD, and more. It works instantly and effectively. Even in small doses… The one hitch? It only works if you take it two hours after exercise.”
Of course, the miracle cure is exercise itself.
Exercise has been shown to have an immediate and positive effect on mood. Even a single dose of exercise—30 minutes of walking on a treadmill—has been shown to lift the mood of a patient suffering from major depression. To put this in perspective, it can take up to 8 weeks to feel the full positive effects of an antidepressant while a walk in the park works immediately.
Think of exercise as a way to inoculate oneself against the inevitable stresses of daily life. It has been shown to be as effective as medication in treating depression and to also have longer lasting results. Research shows that physical activity can be preventative, too.
There are benefits for patients with anxiety and ADHD, too. Physical activity optimizes learning by improving impulse control, attention, arousal and reducing learned helplessness. Exercise affects more than 20 chemicals in the brain in a positive way and may stimulate the release of endorphins and nerve growth factors which are like fertilizers for the brain. It potentially protects the brain against age-related memory loss, and new information emerges every day reinforcing its benefits.
In summary, the benefits of exercise are immeasurable. It’s not just about going to the gym an hour a day; the key is to build more activity into your day. Take the stairs. Get off the subway before your regular stop. Leave your house a little earlier so you can walk to work or school. It’s good for your body and your mind.
“Walking is man’s best medicine.” — Hippocrates