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Mental Health and Exercise: The Connection and Benefits

Mental Health and Exercise: The Connection and Benefits

For a long time, when people discussed health and wellbeing, they meant physical health. Mental health was seldom talked about and often shunned; it was a taboo.  Fortunately, the atmosphere around mental health has begun to improve, and more people are beginning to open up about their mental health.

Mental health is slowly becoming something that can be openly discussed and treated just like physical health. Like physical health, numerous factors affect your mental health, genetics, illness, medications, and exercise. This means that to keep your mental wellbeing up to par, you have to focus on various factors. The factor that we have chosen to focus on is exercise.

What is Mental Health?

Mental health is the combination of your psychological, emotional, and social state of being. Your mental health has a direct impact on the way you function in your everyday life. Your mental health determines how you manage your emotions, the way you interact with those around you, and the decisions you make.

Your mental health, much like your physical health, is subject to ups and downs throughout your life.  The manifestation of poor mental health can vary from person to person, but some common signs can indicate poor mental health. These include sleep disturbances (too little or excessive), memory issues, feelings of hopelessness, lack of motivation, and a drop in energy.

What is The Connection Between Exercise and Mental Health?

The link between physical health and exercise is clear and has been explained to us from an early age. We are told to exercise and work out so that we stay in good physical shape. Naturally, exercising builds muscle, strengthens bones, joints build strength, all vital for good physical health.

With mental health, the situation is a little trickier. Of course, there is a positive connection between good mental health and exercise. The issue arises when someone has poor mental health as they find themselves unable to exercise. Physically the body may be able, but the mind is not. 

Hence a tricky situation. You need to exercise to improve your mental health, but you cannot exercise because of your poor mental health. For some people struggling with mental health issues, accomplishing daily tasks is a struggle, let alone attempting to exercise. This is why it can be difficult to maintain a good exercise routine for someone who is struggling with poor mental health.

However, exercising even for a few minutes is encouraged in those with poor mental health to improve their condition. Once the initial steps are taken, it can get easier to stick to a routine of exercising for a few minutes during the day or week. Exercise is also a way to maintain good mental health by reducing the chances of mental illness occurring.

What Are the Benefits of Exercise on Mental Health?

As stated previously, the link between mental health may be complicated, but it is an overall positive correlation. Exercise has been shown to improve people’s mental health. It does this through several different mechanisms, which combine to give an overall benefit.

Releasing Endorphins and Neurotransmitters– Feel-Good Chemicals

The number one benefit of exercise is the release of endorphins and our brains own happy hormones. Endorphins are created naturally by everyone’s body; the quantity varies from person to person. People with low levels of endorphins can be more likely to suffer from poor mental health.

One way you can encourage your body to increase the production of endorphins is through exercise. You may have heard of something called a “runner’s high,” this high is all thanks to the endorphins your body makes. They provide a sense of immense happiness which is a great way to boost your mental health.

Some other neurotransmitters that are released with exercise are serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, and adrenaline. These neurotransmitters help to improve your sleep, appetite, mood, and stress.

Improves Sleep Cycle

Poor mental health has a huge impact on your sleep cycle, and you can find that you either sleep far too much or not enough. Poor sleep impacts your mental health, and you find that you are stuck in a vicious cycle. Exercise is a way to improve your sleep cycle.

Regular exercise balances the hormones in your body, which help in regulating your sleep. Additionally, exercise tires you out (in a good way), making it easier to fall asleep, and of course, if you sleep on time, you wake up on time.  Leading to a regulated sleep cycle.

Mood Improvement

Poor mental health has a direct effect on a person’s mood. They can find themselves reacting negatively to those around them and being far more stressed or anxious about minor inconveniences.  This can make it difficult to be active and present in your daily life.

Research into exercise and mood has found that people report having an improved mood after being physically active.  They feel calmer, content, and awake as compared to inactive people. An improved mood makes it easier to interact with people around you and to handle any problems that may arise during your day. 

Increased Confidence 

Exercise can be a great way to boost your confidence and self-esteem. This boost is a great way to keep your mind in a healthy state of mind; if you are happy with yourself, it can be easy to cope with life’s ups and downs. Exercise improves your physical appearance, which is bound to improve your confidence. Additionally, it increases your confidence because every time you reach a new milestone in your fitness journey, you feel proud of what you have accomplished. These factors combine to improve your overall mental health.

Stress Management

Stress has a major negative effect on your mental health. Stress causes a variety of issues such as sleep disturbances and anxiety. A great way to manage stress is through exercise. It reduces anxiety and gives you time away from the problem. Occasionally you may even find the solution to your problem post-workout. 

Conclusion

Mental health depends on various factors, one of them being exercise. While exercise may not cure your mental health problems, it has numerous benefits that can improve your mental health. A few minutes of exercise every day can do wonders for your mental wellbeing.

References

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320839#what-are-endorphins
https://www.mentalhealth.gov/basics/what-is-mental-health
https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/exercise#Exercise-and-brain-chemistry
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1470658/#:~:text=Exercise%20improves%20mental%20health%20by,self%2Desteem%20and%20cognitive%20function.&text=Exercise%20has%20also%20been%20found,self%2Desteem%20and%20social%20withdrawal.
https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/depression-and-exercise/art-20046495
https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/how-to-using-exercise
https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/exercise-and-mental-health
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