The tremendous mental health benefits of exercise are often overlooked, and it is becoming more apparent that daily exercise and good mental health go hand in hand. Exercise can relieve a wide variety of conditions, from stress and anxiety to depression in moderate cases.
You may already be aware that exercise and mental health have a healthy relationship, but do you know why?
Yeah, that’s what this article is all about—we clarify how exercise has a definitive impact on our mental and physical wellbeing and how much you can do to experience the beneficial effects on your mind and body—some suggestions of successful workouts try.
Exercise and Mental Health – The Facts
First, let’s explain some of the main statistics between mental wellbeing and exercise:
For adults engaging in everyday physical activity, there is a 20% -30% lower risk of depression and general feelings of distress (Start Active, Stay Active)
People who exercise regularly have an average of 1.5 fewer “bad days” every month than those who don’t exercise (The Lancet Psychiatry Journal)
The odds of getting depression for people managing 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise a week is 22% lower than those who don’t (NHS)
Why is exercise good for mental health?
The production of feel-good brain chemicals such as endorphins is the most significant advantage that physical activity brings to our mental health. During physical exercise and other pastimes, endorphins alleviate pain and tension in mind and give us an overall feeling of pleasure. You may have heard of “the high of the runner,” which explains when exercise releases endorphins into your body.
Endorphins are among our brains’ many neurotransmitters that decide how we think about those circumstances and feel about them. When these are triggered during exercise, they induce the release in the body of helpful chemicals that not only help us get through the task at hand but boost our general mood. Such chemicals include:
This release of chemicals and several other benefits exercise offers is why it is such a useful course of treatment for various mental health issues.
Exercise and serotonin
Of the above chemicals, serotonin is one that can be expanded more profoundly. In an attempt to enhance the mood of people, serotonin is the chemical that most antidepressants aim. Although about 75% of the serotonin in our body is stored in our gut to manage intestinal movements, we are involved in mental health exercises for 25% in our brains.
According to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), exercise enhances serotonin’s role in human beings. First, motor activity increases the rate at which serotonin is fired throughout the brain. The explanation is two-fold. Second, it also raises the amount of tryptophan; an amino acid used to make serotonin in the brain.
Although it’s still a little unclear as to how this process joins together, numerous studies have noted this correlation between exercise and serotonin levels rising, subsequently positively affecting mental health.
The mental health benefits of exercise
This release of serotonin is one of the many ways exercise and mental health come together to provide practical, lasting benefits:
- Training the brain
Not only does exercise cause the brain to release healthy, positive chemicals, but the size of our hippocampus, the portion responsible for our memory, will increase. Besides, more ties are forming between our nerve cells, helping to protect our minds from injury and mental illness.
- Natural energy source
Although beginning an exercise routine may feel energy-sapping, exercise becomes a usual way to increase energy levels over time. This battles against the draining repercussions triggered by mental health issues and motivate us to get out of bed and welcome the day.
- Release tension
Low mood feelings may also be caused by constant aches and pains in our muscles, bones, and other body areas. In particular, aerobics such as yoga or Pilates will relieve the stress in these regions and reduce any pain, making it a great form of mental health exercise.
- Exercise and achievement
Exercise is excellent for giving us goals to aim for, to one day turn that kilometre-long jog into a mile-long one. Pushing to achieve those goals gives us feelings of accomplishment and self-worth, which makes us feel happier about our lives in general.
- Lose weight, gain self-esteem
Typical by-products of regular exercise are weight loss and muscle development. If you struggle with self-esteem issues, this can help you feel more comfortable with the way you look and how you’re getting there and establish a more healthy, balanced appetite.
- A good night’s sleep
If getting your eight hours of shut-eye is a constant battle, regular exercise as part of your evening routine can help relax your muscles and tire you out. The ability to rest enables you to find the sleep you’ve been missing and provides a boost to your mind’s health.
- Avoid isolation
There are many types of exercise, most of which encourage you to interact with the people around you. Getting involved in a team sport or gym class can be a great way to overcome the isolation that can come with depression, anxiety and other mental health difficulties and connect with people with shared interests.
- A welcome distraction
Sitting too long with our thoughts can hurt our mental wellbeing. Exercise allows you to break any negative thought patterns that feed your low mood, giving you something else to focus on as an effective, beneficial coping mechanism.
- Outlet for frustrations
We all get angry and frustrated on occasion, and finding a healthy outlet for those feelings is essential to ensure they don’t affect your health or personal relationships. By releasing serotonin, endorphins and other feel-good chemicals, exercise helps the frustration to subside.
How much exercise is required to improve mental health?
The NHS recommends that adults between the ages of 19 and 64 should aim for approximately 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week, including two or more days of muscle-strengthening exercise. Why not try brisk walking, hiking, cycling or aerobics with water?
Alternatively, 150 minutes can reduce to 75 minutes of vigorous activity, including jogging/running, football, fast swimming and gymnastics, to name a few. It also provides unique guidance for early childhood, young people and older adults aged 65 and over.
If all this sounds daunting, the critical thing to keep in mind is that any exercise is a positive step forward for your mind and body. Even if it’s as simple as a 15-minute walk around your area at first, these small steps can make a significant difference to your overall mood.
Start small and build up a relationship with exercise and mental health over time. Choose an activity that you’re a fan of or enjoyed in the past to get you started, and create a simple, easy-to-follow exercise plan that makes you more active every day without draining your motivation right away.
What are some of the best exercises for mental health?
Frankly, any physical activity helps release the feel-good hormones that make it such a positive aid to our wellbeing. But aerobic and strength exercises are often considered adequate due to the focus on deep breathing, concentration and conditioning that benefits both our physical and mental health.
Here are some jump-off ideas of practical exercises and activities that can help improve your body and your mind:
- Resistance training
- Spin classes
- Martial arts
Exercising Your Mental Health
Forming a positive relationship between exercise and mental health is one of the many helpful techniques to improve your overall mood and outlook on life. Exercise is often seriously undervalued in its ability to make us feel better physically and mentally. Hopefully, this insight into why it makes such a significant difference to our wellbeing will encourage you to introduce more activity into your day-to-day life.
As mentioned, exercise is just one way you can take control of your mood and get on the path to feeling better. Art Therapy for You, we are committed to supporting people with mental health concerns through our proven range of psycho-educational courses and talking therapies. Through these, we explore your feelings and present coping mechanisms to manage your mood on the way to overcome them.