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Published on September 08, 2014

Exercise Does a Mind Good

Keep Moving to Boost Your Mood and Reduce the Effects of Stress

  The Exercise Effect
Exercise can be one of the best things for you if you’re feeling down. Not only does it makes you feel better and boosts your mood, but it can help you manage stress. Join Kirk Bergmark, an Advanced Practice Nurse for Behavioral Health at Palos Medical Group, as he provides an overview of the connection between mental health and exercise and discusses the successful outcomes that can come with being active.

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Palos Medical Group’s Behavioral Health Services are conveniently located at Palos Community Hospital’s Physician Offices Building, 12255 S. 80th Avenue, in Palos Heights, and the Palos Primary Care Center, 15300 West Avenue, in Orland Park. For more information or to schedule an appointment, please contact Palos Medical Group at (708) 923-7878.

Clap along if you feel like exercise makes you happy, because odds are it does.

Studies focused on the mental health benefits of physical activity have shown exercise increasing chemicals in the brain called endorphins, and the release of endorphins is responsible for the feeling of well-being described as “runners high.”

However, the effect of exercise on the brain goes well beyond the release of endorphins.

“The physical, especially the cardiovascular, benefits have been promoted for decades,” says Kirk Bergmark, an Advanced Practice Nurse for Behavioral Health at Palos Medical Group. “Science and medicine have more recently begun to recognize the positive impact of exercise on the brain.”

Some of those benefits include:

  • Boosting brain function – An increase in neurotransmitter levels that the neurons in the brain use to communicate with one another increases a secreted protein called Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor, or BDNF, which results in increased, strengthened connections between neurons.
  • Relieving anxiety – Exercise results in a release in muscle tension. When muscle tension decreases, the brain often will follow and relax as well.
  • Building confidence levels – Exercise makes us feel stronger. It’s a way we can choose to improve our physical and mental health, leading to enhanced self-esteem.
  • Sleeping better – Physical exercise has long been known to improve the quality of sleep. However, you need to be careful of the timing of the exercise, avoiding intense exercise at least two hours before bedtime.
  • Reducing stress – Exercise increases the threshold or point at which our fight or flight response to stress begins. It also reduces the negative impact and damage caused to our bodies and our brain by our stress response.

“The stresses that occur in the context of our modern lifestyle don’t often afford us the opportunity to respond in the physical manner evolution intended,” Kirk says. “Exercise gives us the opportunity to burn off those chemicals our body produces in response to stress.”

Kirk often recommends exercise to his patients suffering from depression and anxiety as an addition to medication, talk therapy and counseling.

“Exercise can play an important role in someone’s recovery from mental health problems such as anxiety and depression,” he says. “One of the advantages is that people who experience the relief from depression as a result of exercise attribute their improvement to their own efforts rather than to a medication or therapist. This can result in an increased sense of self-efficacy, which also has been associated with a decrease in depressive symptoms.”

Kirk has seen firsthand the positive outcomes from exercise. He began running about three years ago and has completed two marathons. “I have personally experienced significant improvements in my physical health and stress management by running. It helps me maintain a positive outlook and has sharpened my thinking.”

He recommends working up to 45 minutes to one hour of exercise at 50 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate, three to five days per week for at least 12 to 16 weeks. 

Kirk stresses that people experiencing moderate to severe symptoms of mental distress to the point it interferes with home or work should first seek the assistance of a mental health professional to develop a comprehensive treatment plan. “Medications and talk therapy may offer more rapid improvement in symptoms than the 12 to 16 weeks necessary to significantly impact symptoms of depression through exercise.”

A plan of action

It’s important to remember everyone’s different when it comes to beginning an exercise program. The first step is to figure out what activity you would enjoy doing.

“It’s important to commit to a schedule of activity that can reasonably be fit into your life,” Kirk says. “After that, it’s important to set small, incremental and achievable goals.”

Taking the ‘Next Steps’

Kirk Bergmark has referred several patients to the Transitional Care segment of the Next Steps medical program offered through Palos Health & Fitness Center in Orland Park. Transitional Care is an eight-week medically based program which provides clients with an independent exercise program under the guidance of a fitness professional. Some of the benefits of the program include assessments at the beginning and end of the program, an individualized exercise plan, options for group exercise class participation and unlimited access to the center for the program duration.

One of the components evaluated during the assessment process is mental well-being. “After just eight weeks of exercise, at least twice per week, participants in Next Steps improved their mental composite scores,” explains Nicole Fritz, Medical Integration Coordinator at Palos Health & Fitness Center. “This is tangible data which indicates regular exercise enhances both physical and mental wellness.”

For more information about the Next Steps program, contact Palos Health & Fitness Center at (708) 675-4542.