Mental health benefits of exercise!

I am sure we are all aware of the physical benefits associated with exercise and movement including the decreased risk of cardiovascular and other diseases along with increased longevity , weight loss and other health benefits. The physical health benefits are constantly being communicated in society which is excellent although I believe there isn’t as much discussion around the mental health benefits of exercise as there should be!

Our mental health is VITAL to our overall wellbeing and there couldn’t be a more important time to take place a higher focus on own mental health considering the difficult times we are all facing in this pandemic and the changes associated with it.

Therefore, I thought I’d share 4 interesting fun facts on how exercise can directly improve our overall mental health!

1. Exercise can make you feel more Brave

Physical activity has been proven to lead to benefits such as courage and bravery in people!

The main reason for this is that new exercise habits are proven to enhance the reward system in our brains which can also calm feelings of anxiety. The less anxious we are, the less fearful we are and thus this can increase our feelings of confidence and bravery.

Regular exercise has also been proven to change the default state of our nervous system so that it can become more balanced and therefore less prone to the fight, flight or freeze system being activated.

Also, the more exercise we engage in, this tends to increase our confidence when faced with adversity or in situations which test our strength.

2. It can decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression

This is a massive bonus if to exercising for your mental health! The main reason for this is that when we exercise and move our bodies, the main neurotransmitters which are released in our brains (including endorphins and serotonin) are directly linked to increasing our mood and thus decreasing symptoms of mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. How good is that???

There is also more recent evidence to suggest that lactate – another chemical in our bodies which is released during exercise – (usually causing us muscle soreness after exercise) can also alter the neurotransmitters in our brain leading to a decrease in symptoms of anxiety and depression. Yes please!

3. It can improve our self-esteem and self-image

Of course we all know that physical activity can improve our overall self-esteem by way of improving the physical nature of our bodies e.g slimmer, increased muscle tone, less cellulite etc. Although this is only one part of how it can impact our self-esteem.

Every time we move our bodies we have sensory receptors in our muscles, joints and tendons sending information to our brain about what is happening. ‘Proprioception’ is the term for our ability to perceive our bodies movements and can sometimes be referred to as a ‘sixth sense’. This plays an important role in how we perceive ourselves. For eg if we are lifting heavy weights and pushing past our limitations our mind will tell us “I am powerful and strong”. If we are running for longer periods of time and beating our last timeframe, our mind could tell us “I am quicker and more efficient”.

Therefore, physical accomplishments can change how we think about ourselves and what we are actually capable of thus increasing our self-esteem and shaping a positive self-image.

4. Exercise can build trust and belonging with others

The same neurotransmitters released during exercise that can improve our mood such as endorphins and serotonin, are also responsible for helping us bond with others. Therefore, when exercising with others (in group settings) it can collectively build feelings of trust, happiness and closeness with those around us. It is a very powerful neurobiological mechanism for forming friendships and thus can lead to a decrease in feelings of isolation and loneliness.

As we are all facing our own challenges day to day, it can be nice to take a break from it all and spend some times exercising with others to bring about these natural mood enhancers!

Reference: McGonical, K. (PHD).

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