Fall in love with mental, emotional effects of exercise

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Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and remember a time you fell in love and the bliss you felt.

Perhaps you thought about when you met your soul mate, the birth of your child, or when you discovered your life’s passion. You may remember your heart pounding a little harder, your mood lifting and an extra spring in your step. How would you like to feel this every day? With physical activity and exercise, you can.

Warm feelings of love are caused by chemical reactions that occur with the release of hormones and neurotransmitters inside your body and brain. The same feel-good chemicals are secreted when we fall in love and when we are physically active and exercise. First, let’s distinguish the difference between physical activity and exercise. Physical activity is simply adding more movement to your day, like doing housework, gardening or dancing to a favorite song. Exercise is physical activity that is planned or structured for the purpose of getting stronger and healthier.

According to biological anthropologist and Research Professor Dr. Helen Fisher of Rutgers University who studies love, the chemicals that the body releases with romantic love include:

• Dopamine creates feelings of euphoria, increased energy, focus and attention and also triggers an intense rush of reward and pleasure.

• Norepinephrine causes the heart to pitter-patter, pound harder and get blood pumping.

• Endorphins are the body’s natural pain relievers and are chemically related to morphine. They also create a sense of well-being, security and attachment.

Like romantic love, exercise releases dopamine, norepinephrine and endorphins. But wait, there’s more! Exercise releases more chemicals into the brain that are powerful mood- and mind-boosting substances including:

• Serotonin is a natural mood enhancer that helps relieve depression.

• BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) also helps relieve depression and enhances brain health and memory.

• GABA (gamma amino butyric acid) helps calm the brain’s emotional circuitry.

Exercise is a great outlet to cope with stress better. Then of course, exercise boosts energy and vigor, positively impacting all body and brain systems so you just feel good.

As we age, diet, medications and stress levels all influence levels of hormones and other chemicals and can cause them to get discombobulated, leading to mood changes, anxiety attacks and aggression. Exercise has widespread effects on the body and brain to help balance the whole system.

To experience these joyous feeling, you may be wondering how much exercise is needed. Glad you asked! Research done by best-selling author Gretchen Reynolds suggests that just 20 minutes of physical activity like walking is all that’s needed for the euphoric feeling, and for general health and well-being. We have been led to believe that we need to work out long and hard for health benefits. Research is mounting to dispel this long-held belief.

What are you waiting for? Just put on a pair of sneakers and head out for an invigorating walk and feel the love!

Cate Reade, MS, RD, is a senior fitness expert and entrepreneur on a mission to create an epidemic of mobility. She has been teaching, writing and prescribing healthy eating and exercise programs for over 25 years. She can be contacted at 303-315-7070, Cate@ResDyna.com or visit MoveMor.com.

This column is hosted by the Seniors’ Council of Douglas County. For more information on the council, please visit www.MyDougCoSeniorLife.com, email DCSeniorLife@douglas.co.us or call 303-663-7681.

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