The Gallup-Sharecare 2016 Community Rankings for Exercise report examined rates of regular exercise in 189 communities across the U.S., asking residents how often they exercised during the previous week for 30 or more minutes. While the results across communities ranged from less than 45 percent of the population exercising regularly to more than 65 percent doing so, it was also found that regular exercise is related to communities' overall well-being in a positive way.
When examining the emotional effects of exercise, researchers found that rates of positive emotions — smiling, enjoyment, happiness — were high (86.3 percent) in the top 10 communities for regular exercise. In comparison, rates of positive emotions were 5 percent lower in the lowest 10 cities for regular exercise. High-ranking exercise communities also evaluated their lives and futures more positively compared to the lower ranking communities, and had higher rates of community pride, volunteerism and an overall feeling of safety and security.
Exercise, endorphins and your mood
How are exercise and your emotional state related? There are a few different theories that explain why moods improve and sadness and anxiety are reduced after working out.
The first has to do with endorphins, which are released during exercise. Endorphins are morphine-like chemicals that interact with opioid receptors in the brain; some believe they produce feelings of euphoria.
Norepinephrine, also a neurotransmitter, moderates stress levels in the body and increases during exercise for animals. In humans, the relationship between exercise and norepinephrine — along with serotonin and dopamine — is still being examined. While researchers look into this, many mental health professionals use exercise as a way to help patients with clinical depression.
Other ways exercise improves your mental health
In addition to the positive neurochemical effects, exercise can greatly boost your social life and overall sense of self. Here are some ways it accomplishes that.
- Exercise creates self-efficacy. Goal-setting is important, as is achieving those goals. Whether your ambition is to walk five minutes on the treadmill, get your exercise in by walking or biking your errands, or lift a heavier weight than the week before, accomplishing goals can increase overall self-confidence. Succeeding at something will greatly influence how you approach future tasks.
- Exercise distracts you. Working out and having a more active lifestyle can temporarily divert your mind from negative thoughts and disruptive patterns. When you have to focus on putting one foot in front of the other while running, or participating in a sport, for example, it’s difficult to also worry about something going on at home.
- Exercise helps you meet new people. Keeping fit provides a positive way for you to socialize, and broadening your circle can positively impact your overall well-being. So, grab a pair of sneakers and head to the park, the pool, the bike path or a group exercise class.
The year isn’t over yet — you still have a chance to start or boost an exercise regimen. Not only will you improve your physical health, but your mind and soul will thank you, too.