Being physically active is not just good for your body; it’s good for your mind.
Deemed ‘the exercise effect’ by The American Psychological Association, more evidence is showing up on the links between a patient’s physical fitness and mental wellbeing. In fact, the organisation went as far as to recommend that psychologists include physical activity in their treatment programs. A large and extensive study published in BMC Medicine showed a strong correlation between low physical fitness and an increased likelihood of anxiety and depression.
With more evidence coming to light, it is becoming much more clear that improving your physical fitness levels can be a significant and impactful, non-medicated solution to coping with depression, anxiety, stress, and many other mental roadblocks people are facing today
Being Active Releases the Brain’s Feel-Good Hormones
Any form of physical exercise helps to release endorphins in your body. Endorphins, or your feel-good hormones, triggers a feeling of high-similar to morphine or adrenaline. For your mental health, the release of this endorphin not only improves your mood but can improve other important facets of your life like your sleep patterns.
Using regular physical activity to improve your physical fitness is a great way to improve your sleep. Sleep has been linked to mental well-being, with the 2 having a back and forth relationship. Poor sleep patterns increase anxiety, depression, and poor mental wellbeing. Similarly, those experiencing mental health issues often struggle with getting a good night’s sleep. Improving your physical fitness through exercise could be the action that improves both.
Exercise is a Proven Stress Buster
Physical fitness is also linked to stress levels. In Australia, the number of people grappling with high levels of stress is rapidly rising. There is also research that shows that prolonged exposure to stress can be detrimental to your health including your cardiovascular and mental health. More recently, employers and countries have seen an uptick in chronic fatigue and burnout - something that if left unaddressed, can often be a pathway to depression and anxiety. This provides even more evidence why focusing on regular physical activity is important and beneficial-especially since the benefits of working out regularly include better mental health and opportunities for socialization (also linked to good mental wellbeing).
To combat this, experts recommend aiming for at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week. Referred to as a form of meditation in motion, using exercise to boost your physical health can boost your mood, reduce tension built up by stress and help you relax. It also reduces the likelihood of experiencing mental health issues. In a study published by BMC Medicine, those with low muscle strength and cardiorespiratory fitness were shown to have a 98 percent higher chance of experiencing depression.
Physical Activity can be Used to Treat or Manage Mental Health Conditions
Last but certainly not least, regular physical activity is effective in managing mental health conditions in the long run. For instance, exercise can help ADHD patients improve their concentration and memory by boosting their brain’s dopamine and serotonin. Similarly, those experiencing PTSD can use physical activity to move away from flashbacks or the immobilization stress response of PTSD patients. Also, exercise relieves tension and acts as a natural anti-anxiety medication.
There are other ways your physical activity levels and mental wellbeing are linked. For instance, regular exercise and activity can improve your self-esteem. Self-esteem levels are also commonly affected by those facing mental health struggles. It is also easier than you think to enjoy the mental perks of physical activity.
Start at your own pace and aim for bursts of activity that fit with your lifestyle. If you are too busy in the week with works, head out for walks/runs on the weekends. You can also incorporate more physical activity into your daily routine. For example, fit in a short walk during your lunch hour. After all, it is time we begin prioritizing mental health. Your physical activity can not only play a key role in preventing mental illnesses but in treating and managing them.
This article was kindly written and contributed by Cassie Steele.