While most people know and understand the benefits of exercise for their physical health, be it aesthetics or for performance, not many people know or understand the importance of exercise for mental health. There is evidence to show that exercise may be an often-neglected intervention in mental health care. Exercise plays an important role in mental well-being and can even relieve symptoms of mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. Let's dive a little bit deeper into how.
HOW YOUR MENTAL HEALTH CAN BENEFIT FROM EXERCISE
- Help Reduce Depression
Studies have shown that exercise can aid in managing moderate depression. A recent study done by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that running for 15 minutes a day or walking for an hour reduces the risk of major depression by 26%.
How? Exercise relieves depressive symptoms by promoting changes in the brain, including neural growth, reduced inflammation, and new activity patterns that promote feelings of calm and well-being. The release of endorphins you get from a workout can help energize you and make you feel good after. It can also help by serving as a distraction to break out of the cycle of negative thoughts that can feed depression.
- Help Reduce Anxiety
Endorphins released during exercise can help manage anxiety as well by relieving tension and stress. Moving your body helps decrease muscle tension, which in turn can help lower the physiological symptoms of anxiety. Being mindful during exercise can also help interrupt the flow of constant worry that runs through your head. A simple bike ride, dance class, or even a brisk walk can be a powerful tool for those suffering from chronic anxiety.
- Help Reduce Stress
When we do not confront our stress, we continue the stress cycle and our bodies are in constant activation with increased blood pressure, increased chance of heart disease, and issues with digestion. Thus, completing the stress cycle is imperative for our health.
HOW EXERCISE PROMOTES POSITIVE WELL-BEING
Exercise can also benefit the well-being of individuals who feel mentally healthy. Increasing your activity levels with exercise has also been found to improve mood, energy levels and sleep quality.
It can also promote positive well-being by:
- Boosting confidence – this can be due to feeling better by moving more, hitting a new personal best, or feeling better about your body.
- Providing a source of social support – group exercise is a great way to meet new people. With the recent pandemic, more people have had mental health issues due to the lack of meaningful connections made because of isolation.
- Providing a buffer against stress - Exercise has been linked to lower physiological reactivity to stress. This can be a great way to increase your resilience to stress for the future.
While there are so many wellbeing benefits from exercise, it is important to listen to your body! Personally, I have found exercise to be my form of therapy. If I am having a bad day or am feeling stressed out, I know that I will feel better after I get my workout in. While there is the benefit of endorphins being released, I do find that I feel better because I chose to show up for myself. Exercise is also a form of self-care for me. I listen to my body and adapt the training volume and intensity to ensure that I train safely and avoid injuring myself. Although I typically train by myself as do not like to be distracted and want to be as quick and efficient as I can in the gym, I have found the sense of camaraderie amongst other gym-goers to be special. Having that social support whether you get a new personal best or fail a lift can be comforting to know.
Whether you like training alone or with a group of friends, you can’t deny the benefits you get - physically and mentally!
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