Improved cardiovascular health, improved weight control and trimmed waistline, reduced risk of high blood pressure and diabetes, build muscle and improved sex life, just to mention a few, are some well discussed physical benefits of exercising and staying active. But have we taken a moment to ponder on the relationship between exercise and mental health?
The psychological benefits of exercising and staying active are often overlooked. All the physical benefits of exercising are surely good motivating factors, but what should motivate us more are the serious mental benefits.
Regardless of fitness level, age or gender, stepping out for a workout session might be the last thing on your mind when struggling with mental health. However, numerous scientific studies have shown that mustering the courage and energy to exercise has a powerfully positive effect on brain function and overall mental health. It is therefore no surprise that mental health expects often add exercise to the treatment of certain mental health illnesses.
Reading up on the mental health benefits below should hopefully inspire you to adopt a more active lifestyle by exercising regularly:
Alleviates Symptoms Of Depression And Anxiety
Regularly exercising has been scientifically proven to keep symptoms of depression at bay. Further studies even revealed that exercise can be as effective in treating mild to moderate depression as antidepressants. The good news here being that you get the chance to tackle depression without the possible side effects of antidepressants.
Exercising helps to release ‘feel good’ endorphins and other chemicals produced by the spinal cord and brain that produce feelings of euphoria and enhance our sense of well-being. In addition to this ‘feel good’ effect, exercising helps to reduce inflammation and promotes neural growth, which in the long run makes us calmer and happier.
This calming effect of exercising also helps people with anxiety disorders. Exercise can be a great way to reduce tension and feelings of anger, worry, fear and uncertainty for those with panic disorder and other anxiety related conditions.
Adopting a healthy active lifestyle by regularly exercising may help with anxiety and depression by taking the mind off negative thoughts and worries that could potentially fuel anxiety and depression. A constant flow of negative thoughts and worries in the head is very detrimental to our overall health. Exercising may provide an easy and less expensive solution.
Stress, if not tackled at an early stage could end up feeding anxiety and depression. Increasing the heart rate through exercising helps in stimulating the production of neurohormones like norepinephrine. This helps to improve mood, cognition, moderate the brain’s response to threat and also reduce stress hormones like cortisol. Stress relief is therefore the most common benefit of exercise.
Stress is basically the body’s mental and physical response to threat and or experiences (both past and present). It is therefore imperative to improve the body’s overall ability to respond to stress by exercising regularly.
Positive Effect On Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Forcing the body’s sympathetic and central nervous system to effectively communicate with each other as you focus on how you feel whiles exercising can help your nervous system to move away from the stress response common with post-traumatic stress disorder or trauma.
Focusing and paying close attention to the sensations in your body while working out can be a great way to keep symptoms of PTSD or trauma at bay. Exercises that involve the use of both arms and legs are awesome choices here. Examples of such exercises include weight training, cycling, running and swimming.
Improves Self-Esteem And Confidence
Apart from feeling good about meeting fitness goals and targets, having an improved cardiovascular endurance, improved weight loss and increased muscle gain and tone can all add to boost your self-esteem and confidence.
Regardless of your age, gender, weight, sex, size, weight and level of fitness, regularly exercising can elevate a person’s perception of self-worth, boost self-esteem and improve positive self-image. Adopting regular exercise as a habit improves self-confidence, and makes you feel strong and powerful.
Improves Quality Of Sleep
Having trouble getting a good night’s sleep? If your answer is a yes, then it is about time to you add a regular workout routine to your weekly schedule.
Increased physical activity, has been through various scientific research, proven to promote quality sleep. Exercising increases body temperature, which then can have a calming effect on the mind, leading to better quality of sleep. Exercise has a positive effect on the body’s circadian rhythm.
Circadian rhythm is basically the body’s internal 24-hr clock that runs at the back of the brain and regulates our sleep-wake cycle.
The positive relationship between exercise and mental health can never be under-estimated, especially when it comes to quality of sleep. For some individuals, just a moderate workout session can have an effect equivalent to taking a sleeping pill, even for some people with sleep disorders.
Cardiovascular exercises have been proven to create new brain cells, improve overall brain performance and prevent age-related mental decline.
Improved mental energy and creativity are other mental benefits associated with undertaking regular weekly exercises.
Adopting an active lifestyle by exercising regularly has been proven to sharpen memory, boost ability to learn new things, improve concentration and help one to stay mentally sharp.
Exercise prevents cognitive impairment and memory loss by strengthening the hippocampus (a complex brain structure responsible for learning and memory). Cognitive impairment is when a person has trouble concentrating, remembering, learning new things or making decisions that affect their day-to-day life.
Aging and degenerative diseases can kill off brain cells, potentially resulting in the loss of some important brain functions. Exercising regularly can’t cure a disease like Alzheimer’s, but it can keep it at bay.
Can Provide Social Support Through Interaction
Whether you are a member of a gym class or play football/soccer with friends and colleagues out on the park, exercising with others can be a great source of social support and stress relief. It may give you the chance to exchange friendly smiles while socialising with others. This can help to boost your mood.
You may not need to undertake a full-blown workout session to get this benefit, sometimes just staying active by taking regular walks around your neighbourhood can have massive impact on your mood.
Improves Resilience To Addictions
An often overlooked relationship between exercise and mental health is the impact of exercise on our ability to cope with emotional and mental challenges. Instead of resorting to alcohol and drugs to deal with mental and emotional challenges, exercise provides us with a healthy way of dealing with such challenges.
Apart from coping with emotional and mental challenges, exercises can distract alcohol and drug addicts from their cravings. It does this by more or less de-prioritising cravings in the short term.
Regularly exercising can therefore play a vital part in an addiction recovery process.
How Long Should The Exercise Be?
When it comes to exercising on a regular basis and sticking to the routine, one thing we need to remember is that doing more does not necessarily mean you’ll be better off, even though in some instances, vigorous workout sessions provide greater benefit than light or moderate sessions.
If you are wondering how much physical activity will give you the much-needed mental health boost, the answer is probably not as much as you think.
You definitely don’t need to have a bucket full of sweat or workout for hours in the gym in order to experience the mental benefits of an exercise. Studies show that working out for between 30 and 60 minutes, 3 to 5 times a week is ideal for lowering our mental burdens.
Adopting a 45-minutes session can be ideal as the duration makes it easier to stick to for an extended period of time.
For a beginner, going from 0 to a 45-minute session can be a real challenge. It is perfectly normal, as a beginner to split your workout session into two or three 15-minute workout sessions. Don’t be discouraged by how tough it may seem at the beginning, as doing just some few minutes of exercise is better than doing nothing at all. The more you exercise, the more energy you get and the better you get at it. This will eventually lead to an improvement in your ability to undertake longer workout sessions.
Even if you don’t split workout sessions, sticking to a 45-minute session makes it ideal and easier to fit into a normal daily schedule, as compared to a long 90 or 120-minute workout session.
What Exercises Can I Do?
There are numerous exercises out there. Types of exercises to consider adding to your workout programme include:
- Exercises that promote weight loss (Running, High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), weight/strength training, boxing, swimming etc)
- Full bodyweight exercises
Always Stay Safe!…
The key point here is to stay safe by consulting your doctor before starting any new exercise regime. It is all about ensuring your chosen workout is safe for you.
Start your new exercise regime with an intensity level you are comfortable with and slowly increase the intensity.
It is also very important you consult your doctor or mental health professional if symptoms of anxiety and depression still persist even after adopting a routine of working out regularly.
The positive relationship between exercise and mental health has been proven by various scientific studies, but exercise should not be substituted for medications and psychotherapy. Seeking professional mental help should never be overlooked when the need arises.
With that said, exercising can have positive effects that far extends beyond the physical health benefits we all know. The psychological benefits of exercise are just as important as the physical health benefits.
So if having a healthy heart and lungs, building and toning muscle or achieving your targeted weight loss doesn’t motivate you to exercise, then perhaps exercising for a healthy mental state will.
What else inspires you to exercise and stay fit? Feel free to tell us in the comments section below….