Does exercise have an impact on our mental health?
We all know exercise has many different benefits for our physical health. However, not much is spoken about the impact it can have on our mental health. Recent studies show that exercise can be just as effective in treating mild- moderate depression as therapy and medication. Exercise intervention can often be overlooked or neglected in the care of patients with mental health conditions. While structured programs can be effective, there is the need for lifestyle changes and focusing on increasing moderate-intensity activity throughout the day.
How does exercise affect our mental health?
When we exercise the brain releases “feel good” chemicals such as serotonin and endorphins that help to increase mood. Not only does exercising release these chemicals, it gets you out of the house and gives you the opportunity to reduce feelings of loneliness through meeting new people and making social connections.
Regular exercise helps to reduce stress which is a major contributor not only to mental health but also impacts pain. Exercise helps to decrease symptoms of mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood by improving self-esteem and cognitive function. It has also been found to help alleviate symptoms of low esteem and social withdrawal. Regular exercise helps to promote sleep which helps regulate stress hormones and cellular repair. Allowing you to have restful sleep and feel more energised during the day.
When we exercise there is an increase of blood flow around the body. Pumping more blood into the brain which can help you to think clearly. There is also research to suggest increased exercise helps to increase the hippocampus which is responsible for memory.
What type of exercise helps to lower the risk of mental health issues?
All exercise types are associated with a lower mental health burden. People who participate in team sports or aerobic activity are said to have a lower risk. Exercising for 30 minutes with moderate intensity, such as brisk walking 3 days a week, is sufficient for these health benefits. The 30 minutes doesn’t need to be continuous it can be broken up into three 10-minute walks which is believed to be as equally as effective as one 30-minute walk.
Health benefits from regular exercise
- Improved sleep
- Increased interest in sex
- Better endurance
- Stress relief
- Improvement in mood
- Increased energy and stamina
- Reduced tiredness that can increase mental alertness
- Weight reduction
- Reduced cholesterol and improved cardiovascular fitness
Sometimes it’s hard to be motivated to exercise. We all lead busy lives with different priorities. We can be so busy we forget to take the time to connect with others as well as looking after our own health and mental health. Starting with small goals is the best way to motivate yourself to exercise. If your goals are un-achievable then your motivation will be low and you are less likely to achieve them. Try to make exercise fun and a part of your daily routine, start to integrate it into your lifestyle. As your fitness improves you will start to achieve your goals which will give a sense of fulfillment, helping to increasing mood.
Sharma, A., Madaan, V., & Petty, F. D. (2006). Exercise for mental health. Primary care companion to the Journal of clinical psychiatry, 8(2), 106. doi:10.4088/pcc.v08n0208a
Chekroud, Sammi R et al. Association between physical exercise and mental health in 1·2 million individuals in the USA between 2011 and 2015: a cross-sectional study
The Lancet Psychiatry, Volume 5, Issue 9, 739 – 746