It is a universally accepted fact that exercise provides many wonderful benefits to the body. However, overall well-being isn’t just about physical wellness but also takes into consideration other aspects of living including emotional and mental health. In this regard, can exercise offer other rewards that can contribute to mental well-being?
The question poses a serious cause for consideration as recent statistics reveal some interesting and rather sobering findings: 8.6 million Australians have reported experiencing a mental disorder at some time in their life – close to half of the population belonging to the age range of 16-85 years old. Of this number, around 4.2 million experienced a mental disorder just the previous year. Clearly, this is a serious scenario, something that warrants the exploration of different avenues of treating mental disorders.
The most common type of mental disorder is anxiety disorder, affecting over 3 million Australians, with affective disorders such as depressive episodes coming in second and substance use disorder in distant third. Mental and substance use disorders were the second largest contributor of the non-fatal burden of disease in Australia.
Why is Exercise Good for Mental Health?
Being physically active does more than stimulate your body, it can also help you be mentally well. For starters, exercise can induce increased blood circulation to the brain. Physical activity can also help release the neurotransmitters called dopamine and serotonin in the brain, often referred to as the happy hormones. Both play a role in helping you feel pleasure and are released when you do something you really enjoy, whether it’s watching your favorite movie, eating your favorite meal, having sex, and yes, exercising. The lack of enough dopamine and serotonin in one’s system is said to cause depression, anxiety, and other mania.
Some medications being used to treat depression usually target ways of increasing the levels of serotonin in the brain. Exercise is a natural, non-pharmaceutical way of doing exactly that, lifting your mood, and making you less angry and less stressed.
There are also studies that physical exercise may even confer long-term effects such as neuroprotective factors against degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. Exercise may also influence neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to modify itself and reorganise synaptic connections as a response to experience, learning, or after an injury.
Sustained exercise can also help release endorphins that cause the euphoric high often called the “runner’s high.” Endorphins may help reduce your perception of pain and trigger positive feelings.
Psychologically, exercising can be an excellent way to improve your self-esteem. When you set a goal to improve your health and achieve it, that can be a great confidence booster. On a social level, exercising with a friend or in a group setting can go a long way in improving your interaction with others.
What Are the Mental Health Benefits of Exercise?
Exercise is an excellent intervention for improving your mental wellness as a standalone or together with psychological therapy and medication. It offers multiple benefits on many levels, bringing improvements to your mood, stress response, level of anxiety, depressive state, and self-esteem and may help ward off mental and cognitive decline among older adults. Here are some of the benefits that exercise may provide:
- mental alertness
- improved mood and sense of calm
- greater energy
- stress relief
- better sleep quality
- improved focus and concentration
- reduced feeling of fatigue and tiredness
- may help prevent dementia and cognitive decline for older adults mental health
- offer distraction that takes your mind off worries
- may help you cope better with depressive symptoms
What Exercises are Ideal for Promoting Mental Health?
Tapping into exercise to improve your mental well-being doesn’t mean having to pay for an expensive gym membership. The key is finding something you enjoy and keep doing.
At present, the evidence points to aerobic exercise as the ideal way of making use of physical activity for boosting your mental health. Running, walking, swimming or aquatic-based exercises, or any activity that raises your heart rate and gets your heart pumping is a good start. If you’re not into structured exercise, activities such as gardening, doing the laundry, or even washing the car can count. The guidelines for Australian adults call for a total of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week.
Strength training can also be beneficial in staving off the symptoms of depression and anxiety. Some studies found that resistance training, done 2 to 5 times a week may ease depression and improve your mood. Getting physically stronger also has other benefits like more self-confidence in doing everyday tasks as well as improving your functional capacity.
Important note: if you’re just starting out or have been sedentary for a while, it’s prudent to consult a health professional such as an Exercise Physiologist first before embarking on an exercise routine. The experts can help you refine your form to avoid injuries and find out which exercises are ideal for your health condition. Start slow and increase your exercise duration and intensity incrementally.
Can fitness apps and telehealth help motivate you to exercise more?
There are some studies that point to the usefulness of health and exercise apps and telehealth services in supporting people to exercise in the comfort of their homes. Other studies also suggest that these technological aids may help people exercise at higher intensities and adhere to their exercise regimen.
This is why Healthstin created MyHealthPal. It’s our unique and innovative online app that offers you access to health services as well as an extensive library of over 15,000 narrated training videos. These videos can help guide you to perform exercises using proper technique and the large selection can assist you in choosing which ones are appropriate to your health goals and condition.
Explore the many benefits and advantages of MyHealthPal by downloading the app now.
Was this post helpful? Click here to follow our blog so you won’t miss out on getting regular doses of health information.