Mental Health. Physical Health. While they are often considered very separate, many don’t realise just how much they intertwine. With a clear correlation existing between physical exercise and a healthier mind, I wanted to use today’s post to talk about how exercise can benefit our mental health.
All my life I have been a huge fan of exercise and the outdoors. From an early age up until recently, I had played either Football, Cricket or Table Tennis and I also enjoyed a number of other sports. When my mental health problems began to materialise however, I stopped. My anxiety was causing havoc and becoming exacerbated around groups of people, therefore I made that decision to stop.
When I managed to join my local gym a few years later, I could feel the enjoyment of exercise flowing back to me. Unfortunately an extreme bout of severe depression meant I felt the need to take time away, however the break has given me time to reflect and realise how much exercise can help.
Through going to the gym, eating healthily and changing my lifestyle, it gave me a clear focus and a sense of structure and routine that my life had been previously lacking. It may be cliché but the gym became the place I could “switch off” and escape from the stresses of daily life.
The endorphins released during exercise were lifting my mood and the fact that I was making progress meant that my self-esteem was increasing too. Like many people I have always been quite insecure about my body, however I noticed that over time my self-esteem and self-confidence were being enhanced. Being able to build muscle and get fitter was immensely satisfying and felt like a real achievement!
In one particular study around the links between exercise and depression, participants were divided into three groups. The first group was prescribed anti-depressants, the second exercise and the third a combination of the two. After four months the majority had reduced depressive symptoms, although after 10 months, the statistics were very surprising. 38% of those in the anti depressant group and 31% in the combination group had relapsed, compared to 9% in the exercise only group!
Recent research also suggests exercise helps create new brain cells in the area of the brain known to shrink during mood problems, clearly demonstrating that exercise is a very powerful way of dealing with a mental health problem.
Although exercise can seem very daunting and difficult to do, I think it’s important to start small. With so many different varieties of exercise- e.g running, cycling, swimming, football etc, you don’t necessarily have to even join a gym to engage in regular activity. Even if it’s a 30 min walk three times a week, that’s absolutely fine. In order to maintain self-discipline in the long-term, it’s better to start small and increase our activity levels slowly. From my own experience, doing too much too soon isn’t helpful. The best way is set manageable goals but try not to beat yourself up if they are not achieved!
With so many of us leading such busy lives nowadays, it’s more important than ever to maintain a better work-life balance. Instead of spending all your time working, why not devote some of your time to exercise? It could be a genuine benefit to your wellbeing in the long-term!
Thanks for reading,