Exercise and mental health

cyclist in sunshine on road.jpeg

Everyone knows that regular exercise is essential to maintaining a happy and healthy body. Usually we think of this in terms of physical fitness but the benefits a consistent exercise regime can have on your mental health and wellbeing are also significant. Anyone can reap the positive effects to their mind-set through a well-rounded approach to exercise, and we will detail some specific areas this can help with below.

Reduce Anxiety

The common sense approach to reducing anxiety would be rest, relaxation, maybe a cup of tea or a nice long bath. While these can definitely help, a 20 minute jog or short exercise session can immediately loosen the muscles, release endorphins which stimulate positive mood and can provide you with the activity needed to work the tension out of your system. The committed focus on your exercise for even a short period can be all that’s needed to give your mind a break from the source of your anxiety.

Exercise and Depression

While exercise should never be considered as a cure-all for depression, it can be a useful tool in the arsenal for tackling mild to moderate cases. It can be difficult to motivate yourself to exercise while depressed, but commitment to even a short activity can over time gather steam into a regular habit. This provides a sense of stability and progress while promoting naturally anti-depressant effects in the brain, such as neural growth and increased dopamine levels which encourage a sense of calm and wellbeing.

Trauma Treatment

Studies have shown that one of the most common side effects of a serious trauma or incident of stress is a sense of dissociation, a difficulty in focusing on the present and an increased tendency to relive difficult events. Exercise has proven benefits in combating this issue by pushing you to engage with what you are doing physically and providing a sense of certain place, time and activity. Outdoor activities or exercises which require consistent activity are best to help you centre yourself.  Try to focus on the physical sensations of your exercise, the texture of any equipment you’re using in your hands, how your muscles feel, or the breeze if you’re outside.

Boost Cognition and Brain Activity

In addition to your physical behaviour and good mood, exercise can permanently improve the structures of your brain. Experiments have indicated that regular exercise can increase the number of brain cells as well as the strength of the brain’s infrastructure providing you with long term benefits. An active lifestyle can also develop cells in the hippocampus area of the brain which contribute to improved memory, better problem solving and can support the brain against degenerative problems in later life.

Every area of the body is connected and a diligent exercise routine can be the best and most unexpected tool to deal with areas of your mental health that are in need of a little bit more support. Get out and get moving and give yourself the space to develop a healthier, happier and well-rounded you.

David Clarke