Mental Health is the hot topic right now, I hope it’s not just fashionable and continues to be. Exercise can have a bigger impact on your mental health than many people realise. But how?
There are many ways exercise can help your mental health and improve various symptoms such as these below…
Stress is a physical and emotional reaction to events going on our daily lives, its part of the “fight or flight” system built into us all. Stress raises levels of hormones such as adrenaline, causes our blood pressure and heart rate to increase. It raises cortisol levels (another hormone) which releases sugar and fats into our system to boost energy, so we’re ready to tackle whatever the emergency or stressing causing event is. This can also have an effect on your fat loss but that’s another article.
Now seeing as we don’t need to run away from lions and tigers anymore, or whatever scary as shit predators we apparently used to live amongst, it can a counterproductive reaction in our daily lives.
Regular exercise can counter this reaction and reduce these levels of hormones, help with sleep, and balance out our emotional reaction to stress in our daily lives. Studies show that people that regularly exercise have lower levels of stress than those who are inactive.
Depression and Anxiety
This is a massive issue for lots of us on very different levels. You don’t need to be clinically diagnosed to suffer from states of depression or anxieties, main reason being that so many people just don’t go and get the help they need, and therefore have no chance of being diagnosed! But on a less clinical level, we can all suffer from bouts of feeling low, even extremely low, and have anxieties that keep us from doing things we either need or want to be doing.
Studies show that physical activity and exercise can reduce levels of anxiety in people with mild symptoms, which if we’re honest is pretty much all of us, and it may also have a positive impact on clinical anxiety.
Our mood can definitely be impacted positively by physical activity. People were asked to rate their mood at various parts of the day, during a study looking into its effects. The findings were that most people reported feeling in a better mood after activity (exercise, housework, going for a walk) and said they felt calmer, more content and awake, compared to periods of inactivity. The biggest changes were when getting active immediately after feeling low.
Our self esteem and self-worth are great indicators of our general mental state. Its an emotional perception or feeling towards yourself. Being active can improve this in many ways. Some are physical, and partly due to the benefits of counteracting stress hormones and inducing endorphins (happy hormones). Others are more social and are due to things like joining a team or community, or having people be supportive in our life changes.
Dementia and decline of cognitive function
We live longer these days and there has been a huge increase in dementia, as well as people living with cognitive dysfunctions (without dementia) such as loss of memory, attention and concentration. Studies on the effects of physical activity show that with people already diagnosed with dementia, it can delay the further decline of function. Some research has shown that there is a 20% to 30% lower risk of depression and dementia in adults that take daily physical activity. It also reduces the cognitive decline in people living without dementia.
What type of physical activity is best?
I say “physical activity” because exercise can be a scary word for some! You don’t have to go to a gym to be active.
Most of the research seems to point towards low to medium aerobic exercise as having the most beneficial impact on our mood and mental well-being. 30–35 minutes, 3–5 days a week. This can be as simple as a 30-minute walk and a brisk pace.
Think, “I really need to get that bus that’s about to pull away but I’m not going to run because I’ll look stupid if I miss it!”
Basically, getting active is an important part of what I call the Trilogy of Health. All too often we forget about our mental well-being when we set out to "get fit". If we neglect this, we're not going to me in a state to be motivated to "be healthy".
How do you get started?
If you want a good place to start, try the 10 day feel better guide. No gym, no calorie counting! Just a few simple rules to follow for 10 days, that will result in you feeling better and ready to continue your health trip, whichever way you decide to go!
Research and statistics taken from publications in www.mentalhealth.org.uk