Exercise and mental health

Fit150 – engaging in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity each week. This might seem like a big task and you might be wondering why someone should spend this much time exercising. Exercise can have a positive impact on our overall wellbeing, not only physically but also mentally. Whilst it might be clearer why exercise promotes good physical health, it might not be as clear how exercise can have a positive impact on our mental health. So, this week we are exploring just that and try to answer the question: “Why and how does exercise positively affect our mental health?”

 

Endorphins

Struggling with our mental health can leave us feeling low in energy at times. This might put us off exercising and it might seem bizarre to exercise when you feel as if you have no energy in the first place. Exercise does however release hormones which can boost our energy levels and therefore improve our mood. One of the hormones that is produced when exercising is called “endorphins”. These are the body’s own “feel good hormones” and promote a more positive sense of well-being which is especially important when we are feeling a bit low. Exercise can be as simple as walking, the best thing about that it’s free!

Distraction

Engaging in physical activity can also provide an opportunity to “escape” from everyday life and provide a distraction from things that are happening around us and might be on our mind. This can lower stress and anxiety levels. Exercise can be even more beneficial to reduce anxiety when introducing a mindfulness element. So, instead of zoning out when exercising, try and focus on how your body feels. How does your breathing change? If exercising outdoors, how does the wind feel on your skin? If you are running, how does it feel when your feet are touching the ground? Being mindful when exercising can increase the level of distraction and therefore lower our levels of anxiety by “forgetting” about any worries.

Break the vicious circle

Being active can also help us “break the vicious circle”. When we are feeling stressed and anxious we tend to tense up which in turn can cause physical symptoms such as muscle aches and pains and headaches. This can potentially cause us to be more stressed or anxious as we are then experiencing physical symptoms as well. Exercising can help break this cycle by reducing some of the physical symptoms and lowering our levels of stress and anxiety.

Better sleep

By reducing stress, exercise can also promote better sleep. Sleep is an important aspect of well-being as too little or too much sleep can negatively impact on our mental health. Being active can help us establish a healthy sleep routine. If we feel less stressed and anxious as a result of exercising, then we will be more likely to sleep well at night.

So, exercise can increase our self-esteem by boosting our mood and improving our overall sense of well-being. It can help us establish a healthy sleep routine which can increase our energy levels. Finally, exercising can help us be more mindful and lower our levels of stress and anxiety which can help “break the vicious circle”. For exercise to be something positive that can improve our overall well-being, we need to find something that works for us. Some people might prefer to go for walks whilst others prefer to go to the gym and lift weights. So, find an activity you enjoy so you are not adding additional pressure by doing something you do not like.

If you are wondering how you can become more active and are looking to find an activity that works for you, why not read Stuart Davidson’s inspirational post? In his post, Stuart shares that fit150 can be achieved in many different ways and that it is about finding what works for you. If you want to try a mindfulness exercise, you can click here to read a post on Mindfulness Walking. If you want to share your experience how physical activity can improve our sense of well-being, you can do so by using #fit150 on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.