For many of us when I say gym you think meathead, and in all fairness this is not a bad connotation. Where there is the gym you will find meatheads, places like Planet Fitness in the US and smaller more local gyms have tried to get rid of them with technologies like the “Lunk Alarm” and angry people using cardio machines. However, a meathead’s love of the gym may fall deeper than just being big and flexing in the mirror- in fact it comes all the way into the brain and the chemicals present there.
When ever we do something like drink or take drugs endorphins are released in the brain, specifically dopamine. This is a highly addictive substance and is part of the addictive qualities of said chemicals. It also turns out that exercise, of any kind, also releases endorphins and specifically dopamine. Endorphins act as analgesics, they reduce the perception of pain, and as sedatives, they slow brain activity and calm you down. They act much like pain medication, such as morphine, except the activation of these endorphins are not addictive. Ultimately the more times you exercise, the more endorphins you will receive only exacerbating the feelings listed above.
Therefore exercise is ideal to treat issues such as depression, self-esteem problems and insomnia. But because of the unique nature of mental health problems you need to attack each one differently. For depression I would advise working out in a group or even with a trusted friend. This will help combat the problems of loneliness felt by many sufferers. For someone with self-esteem issues simply do exercise more often as both the chemical feeling and the physical progress will help restore that much needed self-confidence. As for insomnia simply changing the time that you workout could do the trick- if you workout late in the day, then have a small post-workout snack and then go to bed three things will happen. The sedative effects of the dopamine will give you a head start on the sleep you so desperately need, the “euphoria” you will feel will put you in a good mood ready for rest and the digestion of the small meal before bed will make you sleepy.
I understand that fixing these issues are a lot more complex than just “do exercise” but it is one very important piece in the puzzle. Another piece of the puzzle is this… A year ago today a man called Sam West hung himself. He was just Fifteen. A quiet kid, with interests in the arts produced a shock felt that Monday morning when his death was made known. In short in response to his death his brother, Ben West, formed a charity aptly named the Sam West Foundation. One of the many things they do is create internet petitions. If you want to support one then here is the link to it.