In a previous article we touched on the relationship between physical health and mental illness, shedding some light on how each has the ability to influence the other.
In this article we take a closer look at how regular exercise can be a positive impact on mental health problems. Studies have shown over and over that physical activity is so much more than just a way to lose weight, or maintain a healthy body.
And people are tapping in to this vital relationship between body and mind, with institutions like depression clinics and psychiatric hospitals using exercise as an effective treatment method for people suffering from mental illness.
Andries Lodder published an in-depth piece on the ways in which physical activity can improve mental health – a benefit of exercise that is too often overlooked. When you exercise, your brain releases endorphins which relaxes the body and calms the mind. It also acts as nature’s own pain-relief system. In this way regular exercise significantly reduces symptoms for people dealing with depression and anxiety.
Lack of sleep has been known to cause problems with attention, memory, and even stress and blood pressure levels. By engaging your mind and body in stimulating exercise, you are laying the foundation for healthier sleep patterns which lead to a healthier mind and body.
Physical activity acts to release built-up tension from the body, and when your body feels relaxed, the mind relaxes too. People who exercise experience less backache, headache, and other strain-related pain that comes with being weighed down by stress. The best part is that the brain learns how to better manage mental stress as well, which can greatly reduce feelings of exhaustion and anxiety.
When you work out regularly, your body will inevitably start taking shape and looking great. In turn, this will act as a natural boost to self-confidence. People with body image problems and depression can benefit greatly from this. Your sense of worth improves along with your self-image.
Exercise helps keep your brain young no matter what your true age is. As we get older, our brain function begins to decline, and regular physical activity helps slow down this process. Not only will you be decreasing the natural degeneration of your brain, but you will boost memory and have sharper focus as well.
Dopamine is a chemical in the brain that is used as a kind of reward when responding to something that is pleasurable. Drug and alcohol dependence is underlined by going after that hit of Dopamine, which can just as easily be achieved using food, sex, or exercise.
People with mental health problems often go through periods where they find it hard to function in everyday life – work, family, community responsibilities fall by the wayside. Regular exercise keeps the mind and body energized and ready to take on the tasks required to lead a satisfying life.
Mental health specialists report that people with mental illness commonly feel as if they have little control over their emotions and in fact, their emotions control them. A good aerobic workout, like running, gives you the opportunity to release negative feelings in a healthy way. You will finish feeling refreshed and renewed, and more prepared to overcome the next hurdle in your path.
More of than not, people with mental health problems have difficulty with productivity at work. By using exercise to get rid of stress and anxiety among other things, you leave your mind relaxed and energized to take on everyday stress. This makes you more productive and attentive in a work environment.
The cyclical nature of the relationship between mental and physical health means that when you treat one in a healthy and positive way, the other will be impacted much the same. We know that depression and schizophrenia have been linked to heart disease and diabetes, conditions which can lead to worsening the symptoms of mental illness. That’s why in keeping your body healthy, you lessen the negative impact that chronic conditions end up having on your mental state.
You don’t have to spend hours of your day sweating it out at the gym in order to benefit from the impact exercise has on mental health. In fact, adopting a plan that is simple to follow is a better guarantee that you will stick to it. Experts recommend five 30-minute sessions a week, and these can be broken down into two 15-minute sessions if you are really pressed for time.
Think about periods in your day when you have the most energy and start there. A brisk walk, cycling, swimming, and running are great aerobic workouts that get the blood flowing to all the right places. The point is to get your heart rate and breathing up, because this is what feeds your brain and releases all those good chemicals.
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself either. You can start slowly – dedicating a few 5-minute sessions of your day – and as your energy increases, you can then pick up the pace. The most important thing is that you enjoy what you’re doing, because then it will be easier to make it a standard part of your life.