It is a well known fact that exercise is good for the body, physiologically at least. However, it is less well known that exercise has been proven to be one of the most effective ways to improve mental health as well. Regular exercise has been found to have a resoundingly positive impact on mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, ADHD amongst many others. There are other mental health benefits of exercise, such as stress relief, improving your memory, and helping you to sleep better. It’s also not as hard as you may think the reap the rewards; you can find all of the benefits from just 30 minutes of exercise as day, whether that’s split up into three 10-minute segments, or two 15-minute segments. You don’t need to be an avid gym goer, or a marathon runner to receive the mental health benefits of exercise; moderate exercise will do just fine!
What is moderate exercise?
Moderate exercise has been defined physiologically as when you are breathing slightly heavier than usual, without being out of breath. You should be able to hold a conversation, but not be able to sing a song. Also, you body should feel a little bit warmer as you move, but you shouldn’t be overheated or overly sweaty. As you can tell, the definition for moderate exercise will change depending on your level of fitness. A brisk walk may be considered moderate exercise for someone, and light exercise for another; experimenting with which exercise works best for you is important.
Exercise has been known to stimulate the body to produce endorphins, which are also known as the bodies natural ‘feel-good’ hormones. Simply being able to focus on exercise can also give the mind a break from current concerns, as well as damaging self-talk. Exercising in a group has also been found to have a positive correlation with mental health. The comradery that is associated with working out in a group has been shown to produce more of the endorphins that we were talking about earlier, which explains the research which find that the prevalence of anxiety, depression and stress is generally lower within those engaging in group exercise, as well as team sports. Exercising on your own can be both daunting and boring; group exercise should be embraced where possible! Exercises such as those shown by gymequipmentgb.co.uk can be performed in groups, increasing motivation and providing a social environment.
Exercise promotes lots of adjustments in your brain, such as neural growth, reduced inflammation as well as inducing new activity patterns that can promote feelings of calmness as well as general well-being. As mentioned previously, exercise can also act an an effective distraction, allowing you to potentially break the negative cycle of the discouraging thoughts feed depression. These are just a couple of reasons that suggest that exercise has a powerful positive impact on individuals fighting depression.
Exercise also relieves tension and stress, and can boost both physical and mental energy, thus boosting the feelings that we gain from the endorphins. For this reason, exercise is known to be a proven natural anti-anxiety treatment. Exercise is something that can get you moving, and as mentioned earlier, can help to act as a distraction from other potential mental health issues, such as anxiety. Being able to zone out for half an hour a day can give your brain and mind some much needed respite. In order to enhance this sensation, focus on the little things whilst exercising, such as the feeling of your feet hitting the ground, or the rhythm of your breathing, which can further aid in dispelling negative thoughts.
The effects that exercise have on the nervous system have also been shown to be positive in relation to the nervous system, and more specifically PTSD. It can help your nervous system become ‘unstuck’ and being to transition out of the immobilisation stress response that is generally associated with PTSD and trauma. Again, offering your mind a distraction, playing closer attention the the physiological sensations within your muscles and joints, can aid with this process. Exercises that involve cross movement, engaging multiple limbs at one time, such as swimming and dancing, are said to be more effective at aiding with PTSD, as well as outdoor activities, such as sailing and skiing.
There are other mental health benefits to exercise as well, such as improved concentration and memory, higher self esteem, better sleep, and generally having more energy. Increasing your heart rate multiple times throughout the week will give you a bit more of a spring in your step, and as you continue to exercise you should find that you are able to exercise for a bit longer the next time, or with a bit more intensity. As mentioned earlier, this will improve your self esteem, and is a good, tangible way of tracking your progress. There are a number of apps that you can download in order to measure the progress of your exercise as well, which can be a useful way of measuring how far you’ve come, and subsequently increase your motivation and mental health.
It may seem hard initially to start doing exercise. There are various barriers, such as feeling exhausted, which may hinder us from wanting to exercise. Studies have shown however, that exercise is actually a powerful energiser, and regular exercise can dramatically reduce general fatigue and increase your energy levels. Start with a small amount of exercise, and see where that may take you; a ten-minute walk may turn into a half hour power walk, which will do wonders for your mental health, in the same way that a 2-mile jog may turn into a 2-and-a-half-mile jog. Without starting then, you will forever be limited.
All in all, the benefits that exercise can have on mental health are clear to see. There has been lots of research outlining the aforementioned benefits, and sometimes the hardest step can be the very first one. Always ensure that you are working out as a group if possible; the best way to find motivation is to work with others. Start small, and work your way up, and hopefully you’ll start to see positive results with both your physiological and mental health.