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Fitness and Exercise

by Pranav Bolla, M.A.

Fitness and exercise are strong predictors of health outcomes for each person whether it be simple aerobic exercise, daily walking, or more intense weight resistance programs. Participation in daily fitness routines is found to have a powerful positive effect in reduction of not only health disorders such as cardiovascular disease, endocrine disease, and health conditions, but substantial links have been linked to fitness/exercise routines and positive outcomes for mental well-being (Mikkelsen et al., 2017). This may not be such a profound revelation, yet how fitness/exercise lends itself to our mental health and well-being is vast and multifaceted. Studies have shown that the introduction of light weight training and aerobic exercise programs lead to a reduction in perceived life stress in groups of college students compared to those not involved in these activities (Bass, Enochs, & Dibrezzo, 2002). Likewise, exercise has been linked to improvements in quality in life gains in the form of stress reduction (Berger, 1994). Exercise itself has also been linked towards cognitive benefits. Physical exercise itself has linked towards positive neurological benefits such as reduction in damage in grey matter in the brain, increased cerebrovascular health, and increase metabolic health in the brain (Hötting et al., 2016). These effects can be seen across the lifespan, with children participating in regular aerobic play seeing improved performance on verbal and math tests (Voss et al., 2011) to the prevention of developing dementia (Colberg, Somma, and Schrist, 2008) and other related cognitive difficulties seen in older life (Niemann et al., 2014). 


Mental health disorders are often associated with physiological changes and changes in activity levels, so it is not surprising then that specific benefits have been linked between fitness/exercise and specific mental health disorders. The link between the benefits of exercise and depression has been vastly explored. Depression is often associated with a reduction in physical activity as depression severity increases (Goodwin, 2003) and the implementation of some form of physical activity has been shown to leading to a reduction in depression symptomology in children, adults, and older adults (Dinas, Koutedakis, & Flouris, 2011). Individuals struggling with anxiety disorders likewise benefit from exercise and fitness routines in a multitude of ways. Introduction of exercise interventions were found to lead to reduction in anxiety symptoms with a more pronounced effect seen in individuals experiencing acute anxiety (Paluska & Schwenk, 2000). Additionally, exercise has been found to be an effective bulwark against the development of depression and anxiety symptoms. Exercise and physical activity implementation are also found to have other benefits for ADHD and disruptive behavior in children, helping reduce instances of hyperactivity and impulsivity (Bustamante et al., 2016).


Many different explanations exist as to why exercise, physical activity, and fitness provides benefits for a number of different complaints, mental disorders, and wellbeing. Looking from a therapeutic angle of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, exercise and physical activity provide different benefits in the scope of depression and anxiety (Martinsen, 2009). Those who struggle with depression may avoid or withdraw from various aspects in their lives which leads to the reinforcement of depressive symptoms and exercise stands as means of behavioral activation that may serve to build accomplishments and mastery in their lives (Martinsen, 2009; Mikkelsen et al., 2017)). For those with anxiety or panic symptoms, hyperventilation, increase heart rate, and sweating are common physical sensations related to anxiety and worry and may experience a feedback loop in which the experience of those physical symptoms in their daily lives may trigger anxious feelings, leading to sedentary lifestyles in order to avoid discomfort. Exercise then presents a “safe” way to experience those physical feelings to train themselves to not react to those physical symptoms (Martinsen, 2009). Other evidence points to the numerous biological processes that occur during the course of an intense weightlifting session or a run. Due to physical stress some exercise such as running cause the body, endorphins are released as a reaction to help contend with these demands. Endorphins are found to have a positive effect on our mood states, leading to the famous “runners high” effect. Exercise also has a profound effect on our immune system and has been shown to improve immune functioning and reduction of inflammation (Mikkelsen et al., 2017). Lastly, exercise is shown to promote the production of various different neurotransmitters within the brain such as serotonin, dopamine, and glutamate which are found to be imbalanced in those dealing with depression and anxiety concerns (Garakani, Mathew, Charney, 2006; Maletic et al., 2007) and exercise stands as a way to naturally stimulate the production of these neurotransmitters within the brain (Martinsen, 2009; Mikkelsen et al., 2017).


 Whether it’s daily activities, walking, or intense weightlifting/aerobic exercise, physical activity can play an important role in our mental wellbeing. However, it is an easier said than done situation when attempting to find ways to fit a routine in our busy lives or to incorporate life changes when struggling with stress, anxiety, and depression. At Interaction Dynamics, we seek to not only address symptoms of mental health disorders but also to help clients develop and incorporate new changes in their daily lives. While treating and assessing mental health, our clinicians also strive to help our clients find ways to improve aspects of their daily routine that not only address their primary concerns but help make changes that help our clients continue to improve as they go through life. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you are interested in services. Treatment isn’t just addressing symptoms, but it is also building a life worth living. 




Bass, M. A., Enochs, W. K., & DiBrezzo, R. (2002). Comparison of two exercise programs on general well-being of college students. Psychological Reports91(3), 1195-1201.


Berger, B. G. (1994). Coping with stress: The effectiveness of exercise and other techniques. Quest46(1), 100-119.


Bustamante, E. E., Davis, C. L., Frazier, S. L., Rusch, D., Fogg, L. F., Atkins, M. S., & Marquez, D. X. (2016). Randomized controlled trial of exercise for ADHD and disruptive behavior disorders. Medicine and science in sports and exercise48(7), 1397.


Colberg, S. R., Somma, C. T., & Sechrist, S. R. (2008). Physical activity participation may offset some of the negative impact of diabetes on cognitive function. Journal of the American Medical Directors Association9(6), 434-438.


Dinas, P. C., Koutedakis, Y., & Flouris, A. D. (2011). Effects of exercise and physical activity on depression. Irish journal of medical science180, 319-325.


Garakani, A., Mathew, S., & Charney, D. S. (2006). Neurobiology of anxiety disorders and implications for treatment. Mount Sinai Journal of Medicine73(7), 941-949.


Goodwin, R. D. (2003). Association between physical activity and mental disorders among adults in the United States. Preventive medicine36(6), 698-703.


Hötting, K., Schickert, N., Kaiser, J., Röder, B., & Schmidt-Kassow, M. (2016). The effects of acute physical exercise on memory, peripheral BDNF, and cortisol in young adults. Neural plasticity2016.


Maletic, V., Robinson, M., Oakes, T., Iyengar, S., Ball, S. G., & Russell, J. (2007). Neurobiology of depression: an integrated view of key findings. International journal of clinical practice61(12), 2030-2040.


Martinsen, E. W. (2008). Physical activity in the prevention and treatment of anxiety and depression. Nordic journal of psychiatry62(sup47), 25-29.


Mikkelsen, K., Stojanovska, L., Polenakovic, M., Bosevski, M., & Apostolopoulos, V. (2017). Exercise and mental health. Maturitas106, 48-56.


Niemann, C., Godde, B., Staudinger, U. M., & Voelcker-Rehage, C. (2014). Exercise-induced changes in basal ganglia volume and cognition in older adults. Neuroscience281, 147-163.

Paluska, S. A., & Schwenk, T. L. (2000). Physical activity and mental health: current concepts. Sports medicine29, 167-180.


Voss, M. W., Chaddock, L., Kim, J. S., VanPatter, M., Pontifex, M. B., Raine, L. B., ... & Kramer, A. F. (2011). Aerobic fitness is associated with greater efficiency of the network underlying cognitive control in preadolescent children. Neuroscience199, 166-176.


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