Let’s talk mental health and exercise. In this article we will cover the benefits that exercise provides for one’s mental health. Having worked with individuals experiencing various mental health challenges and incorporating exercise, it only makes sense to discuss this with everyone else.
Everyone knows the benefits of exercise such as an increased aerobic capacity and increased muscle mass. Those are the more popular physical benefits for individuals. The effects of exercise on mental health are often left out of the conversation when discussing benefits. Exercise is just as important for your mental health and there are a plethora of benefits that should be discussed.
Exercise helps with treatment of mild-moderate depression to the same level that antidepressants treat depression.
A study found that as little as 15 minutes of running a day and 60 minutes of walking a day reduced the risk of depression by 26% and relieved symptoms of depression. Exercise is great for mental health because it promotes changes in the brain that promote feelings of well-being and stability. In addition to changes in the brain, exercise releases endorphins which are powerful little chemicals that make us feel good. There’s definitely more to just endorphins, but we’ll discuss that in another article. (We do recommend reading up on serotonin and the relationship with the gut too – there’s some new research out on this).
Exercise’s effects on anxiety are also important and impressive to note because exercise is a natural treatment. Exercise relieves stress and tension and also releases endorphins. Blood pressure has been used as a marker to check as well as anxiety levels after exercise and a few days after. Physical activity can be used as a distraction for those with anxiety because the individuals can focus on their feet hitting the floor (repetitive movements are perfect), or breathing when running can interrupt the constant flow of worries that may be causing anxiety. It is important to note that the studies have shown improvements in mild anxiety; moderate anxiety is less commonly studied and studying with high levels of anxiety could potentially lead to increases in anxiety. Why? Because exercise elevates the heart rate and blood pressure during the activity thus if an individual is experiencing an extremely elevated state of anxiety, it is best to receive medical treatment first to manage this before looking to exercise.
The third big mental health issue that affects the majority of people is stress. Individuals may either face small everyday stressors or major life stressors like the death of a family member. The symptoms of stress can also vary between individuals, for example some may feel tightness in chest, heartache, stomach pains or frequent urination. Exercise is an excellent and effective way to relieve these symptoms of stress while also providing great physical benefits.
In a more general sense of mental health benefits from exercise, exercise also can sharpen your memory and thinking, higher self-esteem, better sleep, more energy and stronger resilience.
So even if you would rather not exercise for aesthetic reasons, it is important to consider both the physical and mental health benefits of exercise. This especially applies to individuals who are students, work in high stress environments or have a history of any mental health challenges.
If you are someone who is struggling with exercise and need some fine tuning to help with your mental health, feel free to contact us.
Article written by: Isis Camargo (4th Year UofT Kinesiology Student) and Shaneh-Abbas Jaffer (R. Kin)