We all know that exercise is good for our bodies, but did you know it can also help deal with mental health issues like depression, anxiety and stress?
While there’s no single solution to address all mental health concerns, exercise has emerged as a powerful tool that can help alleviate symptoms of various conditions.
Mental Health Awareness Week runs from 15th-21st May, and our experts at Fitness First know how important it can be to look after your mental health. That’s why we’ve put together this blog to help walk you through how exercise can support mental wellbeing for the better.
What is physical activity?
Being physically active is defined as any movement of the body that uses your muscles and requires energy expenditure. Essentially, this includes any motion you do throughout the day, such as walking up the stairs or even cleaning the house! This excludes sitting or lying down.
Many people find that a form of exercise done daily helps them maintain positive mental health, either on its own or in combination with other treatments.
What is mental wellbeing?
Mental wellbeing can be a combination of many things, including how we feel — such as our emotions and how we function — involving our relationships with others and our personal control over our lives.
Good mental wellbeing doesn’t always mean a person is happy or unaffected by what’s happening to or around them. However, poor mental wellbeing can make it even more challenging to cope with what’s happening in daily life.
How can physical activity have an impact on mental wellbeing?
Physical activity can greatly enhance our mental wellbeing — even if it’s just a short 10-minute walk!
Some of the most important benefits physical activity can have on mental wellbeing include:
1. Reduces stress
When events in our lives make us feel threatened or upset the balance in our bodies, our first line of defence is to create a stress response. This stress response — otherwise known as the ‘fight or flight’ response — can make a person feel physically uncomfortable symptoms and make us behave differently.
A mix of hormones and adrenaline raises blood pressure, increases heart rate and the rate at which a person perspires, forcing the body into an emergency response.
Regular exercise can help to reduce the levels of stress hormones in the body, such as cortisol and adrenaline. This can then help to alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression, promoting a sense of relaxation.
2. Improves self-esteem
Self-esteem is how we value and perceive ourselves and is often based on our individual opinions and beliefs, which can often be difficult to change. It’s a key indicator of our mental wellbeing and how well we can cope with life.
Physical activity has been shown to influence a person's self-esteem and self-worth positively. Regular exercise often leads to an improved body image, lowers your blood pressure and risk of diseases, and boosts your energy levels.
If you’re looking for a great place to work out, come and experience one of our Fitness First classes for free.
3. Improves sleep
Exercising can help improve the quality of sleep you get a night, which is essential for maintaining good mental health.
Sufficient sleep, specifically during the REM cycle, helps to facilitate the brain's processing of emotional information. As we sleep, the brain works to remember thoughts and memories, and a lack of sleep can be harmful to the consolidation of positive emotions.
Sleep is important for regulating mood, reducing stress and improving cognitive function.
4. Provides a sense of control
Exercise can help give individuals a sense of control over their bodies and lives — which may be something they’ve always found difficult.
This can be particularly helpful for individuals struggling with mental health issues such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, as it can help them feel more empowered and in charge of their wellbeing.
How much exercise should you do a day?
The amount of exercise someone should aim for each day will essentially depend on their:
- Fitness level
- Overall health
- Personal goals
However, adults should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week.
This can be easily broken down into 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five days a week or 25 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise three days a week.
It may sound like a lot, but it isn’t as daunting as it appears!
How can you overcome the obstacles of exercising?
Whether you’re new to fitness or just getting back into a routine, it can be scary to make changes in your life.
We all know that overcoming obstacles to exercise can be a challenging task, but there are a few ways you can try to make it that little bit easier:
- Identify the barriers — Try to figure out exactly what it is that’s holding you back from exercising. Is it a lack of time, energy or motivation? Or is it something else? Once you’re able to identify the barriers, you can come up with a plan to overcome them.
- Set realistic goals — Start with small, achievable goals and work your way up; it doesn’t matter how quickly you go! Setting unrealistic goals can lead to disappointment and, ultimately, demotivation.
- Find an exercise you enjoy — If you enjoy the exercise you’re doing, you’re more likely to stick with it. Experiment with different exercises and combinations until you find something you genuinely enjoy. This could be 10 minutes of HIIT followed by 20 minutes of yoga or 15 minutes of Pilates followed by a strength workout.
- Create a routine — Establishing a regular exercise routine can make it easier to stick with your workouts. Try to make exercise a part of your daily or weekly schedule.
- Make it social — Exercise with your friends or join a group class. Sometimes, when we have someone to exercise with, it can hold you accountable to join a lesson and make it even more enjoyable!
- Reward yourself — Celebrate your success and all your milestones, no matter how big or small, by treating yourself to something you enjoy. This could be a movie, a massage or even a night out with friends.
- Be patient — Remember, you’re not going to see results overnight, and it’s important not to expect this. Exercise takes time and consistency to show results. Be patient and trust the process!
What are some exercises that can help improve your mental health?
If you struggle with your mental health, such as depression, you can feel low in energy, which might put you off being more active.
Any type of exercise is useful as long as it suits your body. Remember, exercise should be something you enjoy; otherwise, finding the motivation to do it will be hard. Whether you get started with a brisk 10-minute walk or devise a dedicated workout routine, here are some examples of exercises that can help improve mental health:
- Aerobic exercises — Activities such as jogging, swimming, cycling or dancing can increase the production of endorphins which are natural mood boosters. You should aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercises five days a week but don’t worry if you’re new to fitness and getting used to moving your body.
- Yoga — This gentle practice combines physical postures, breathing techniques and meditation, which can help reduce feelings of stress, anxiety and depression. Yoga can increase beneficial brain chemicals like endorphins and GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), which are ‘feel-good’ chemicals that help to improve our moods.
- Mindfulness meditation — This practice involves paying attention to the present moment without judgement. It has been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression and improve overall wellbeing as you take time to think and be at one with yourself.
- Tai Chi — This gentle, low-impact form of exercise combines slow, flowing movements with deep breathing and relaxation techniques. It can help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.
- Outdoor activities — Spending time in nature, whether it's hiking, gardening, or just taking a walk, can improve mood and reduce stress.
If you’re looking for your next workout, discover what our Fitness First gyms have to offer today.
Improve your mental wellbeing with Fitness First
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