Staying Active

THE MENTAL HEALTH BENEFITS OF EXERCISE

an image for news story The mental health benefits of exercise

What role does regular exercise play in your mental wellbeing?

The health benefits of physical exercise are many and varied and, given the obvious affects it has on our fitness, shape and health, it’s understandable that this is where attention is often focused. Exercise is not just about increasing fitness and gaining bigger muscles though – it’s also a major gamechanger in understating mental health. Findings from research indicate that exercise is associated with improvements in mental health and research on acute exercise indicates that 20 to 40 minutes of aerobic activity results in improvements in anxiety and mood that persist for several hours(1).

Can exercise help us to feel more energetic?

If you run a marathon you are going to feel exhausted, but the cumulative effect of exercise actually has the opposite effect and makes you feel more energetic. This is because regular physical activity increases the blood flow within your body and improves your cardiovascular health and fitness. In turn, this makes it easier for blood and oxygen – and therefore energy – to get to the parts of your body where they are needed.

Can exercise improve our quality of sleep?

Physical activity can contribute to more restful sleep. It increases the time spent in deep sleep which is the most restorative sleep phase which helps to boost immune function, support cardiac health and control stress(2). In addition to improving the quality of sleep, exercise can also help you increase the duration of your sleep. The energy you expend when being active helps you to feel more tired.

Can exercise be used as a relaxation technique?

Exercise doesn’t have to be about sweating through a heavy cardio session – Yoga, Pilates and Tai-Chi are all forms of exercise that are good for your body and also help you to relax. Exercises like these focus on breathing. Breathing slower, more deeply and more focused is known to reduce stress and increase relaxation.

Can exercise increase our self-esteem?

Exercise helps to change the condition of our bodies, making us feel stronger and look the way we want to – it’s not all about weight loss though. Exercise also strengthens and tightens your body to increase your self-confidence. Certain types of exercise create a challenge and accomplishing those results is an inevitable sense of achievement. Your challenge is unique to you, but whether it’s going for a short walk or running up a mountain, achieving it is an accomplishment that is sure to boost your self-esteem.

Can exercise improve our memory?

A research article published demonstrated that exercise can reduce the harmful effects of other stressors. The potential effects of exercise on the aging process and on mental health were discussed and the overwhelming evidence present in the literature today suggests that exercise ensures successful brain functioning(3). Furthermore, it was concluded that regular exercise releases brain chemicals key for memory, concentration and mental sharpness, as it stimulates the region of the brain that is involved in memory function(4).

Can exercise release feel-good hormones?

Exercise produces endorphins, the ‘feel-good’ chemical that acts as a natural painkiller and stress-inhibitor. Studies show that exercise is very effective at reducing fatigue, improving alertness and concentration, and at enhancing overall cognitive function(5).

With more and more people wanting to understand mental health, and how it can be improved, exercise is a clear winner in delivering results.

(1) Springer Link: Exercise and Mental Health

(2) The Sleep Doctor: The benefits of exercise for sleep

(3) Karger: Exercise and mental health – many reasons to move

(4) Harvard Health Publishing: Regular exercise releases brain chemicals key for memory, concentration and mental sharpness

(5) Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Physical activity reduces stress

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