We know that regular exercise has measurable benefits for our body’s health, but an often-overlooked benefit is the impact exercise has on our mental health.
Recently the prevalence of anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions has exploded.
People living with Parkinson’s often experience mental health concerns as part of their symptoms. Mental health and Parkinson’s are a complex issue. Parkinson’s doesn’t directly cause mental health issues, but it increases the likelihood of depression, anxiety, and psychosis.
There are both mental and emotional tolls of being diagnosed and living with the complexity of Parkinson’s – added to the physical drop in dopamine production in Parkinson’s. Dopamine not only effects the transmission signals to the muscles but it’s also one of the happy hormones that help hold depression etc at bay.
Anxiety and depression are common mental health symptoms of Parkinson’s. Signs to look out for include:
- Changes in appetite – either eating too much or too little
- Excessive tiredness
- Stress or irritability
- Lack of interest in hobbies and activities
- Feeling hopeless or ‘down’ most days
- Feeling fearful or constantly worried
If you’re struggling with the mental or emotional effects of Parkinson’s disease, you should talk to your doctor. He or she may suggest changing or adjusting your medication.
However, one of the most researched benefits of exercise is the positive effect it has on mental health and mood. Exercise may seem a simple solution but there is a complex chemical process occurring inside the body each time you exercise.
This chemical process has several positive effects on your brain.
As you begin to exercise, important chemical messengers called neurotransmitters are released through your nervous system. Endorphins and lesser-known endocannabinoids play an important role in your brain during exercise.
Exercise increases these neurotransmitters which can help block pain and increase the sensation of pleasure.
Dopamine reduction is one of the main causes of Parkinson’s and exercise is one of the most stimulating activities for increasing dopamine production.
Dopamine plays an important role in how you feel pleasure. It’s also responsible for other processes, such as regulating heart rate, sleep cycles, mood, attention, motivation, working memory, learning, and pain processing.
This sounds an awful lot like some common Parkinson’s symptoms, doesn’t it?
Exercise also increases production of serotonin which helps improve your mood and can help reduce any feelings of loneliness and isolation, while improving the drive to become more social, and help put you in touch with other people.
Neuroplasticity is also promoted by exercise. Neuroplasticity is the ability of your brain and nervous system to change their actions in response to internal or external stimuli. This also helps in learning new skills, activities, and languages, which assist in improving your mood.
Another mood-improving factor of exercise is as your heart beats faster whilst exercising, which increases the oxygen supply to your brain. This results in changes to the blood vessels in your brain promoting potential improvements in executive function, including working memory, flexible thinking, and self-control – making you feel more in control.
Exercise also stimulates the connections between the nerve cells in the brain. This improves your memory and also helps protect your brain against injury and disease.
How much exercise do you need? Australian guidelines recommend adults do at least 30 minutes of moderate to intensive physical activity on most or all days of the week. You can make up 30 minutes over the day by combining shorter 10-to-15-minute sessions.
Practising mindfulness while doing exercise also reduces your stress and improves your mental health.
While exercise benefits mental health it is important that if you’re struggling with the mental or emotional effects of Parkinson’s disease, you should contact your health professional.
Australian Government Department of Health (Australia’s Physical Activity & Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines)
British Journal of Pharmacology (Exercise acts as a drug)
Black Dog Institute (Exercise & depression)
Jean Hailes for Women’s Health (Physical activity & exercise)
Physical Activity Australia (Exercise and mental health)