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Impact of exercise on mental wellbeing
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Impact of exercise on mental wellbeing

Exercise is known for its benefits on the body, such as strengthening the muscles, bones and heart. Although exercise also has a positive impact on mental health. Physical activity and mental wellbeing are very closely linked, and one thing you can do to help improve your mental health is exercise.

According to NHS England, poor mental health is something that affects one in four adults. The most common mental health issues people face today are anxiety and depression, and currently, the main cause of death in those under 35 is suicide1.

With today marking the start of Mental Health Awareness Week (13th – 19th May), SCI-MX’s sports and nutrition expert, Matt Durkin explains how exercise can improve your mental wellbeing.

 

How can exercise improve mental wellbeing?

During any form of physical exercise, the body works hard to create a complex chemical force that is responsible for several positive effects on the brain.

Firstly, neurotransmitters are released throughout the nervous system when you exercise. Closely followed by the most commonly known chemical, endorphins and lesser-known endocannabinoids, these two together are crucial for blocking pain, and generating the euphoric high people feel after a hard workout. They also help to reduce stress and anxiety levels.

Dopamine is another impactful chemical created whilst exercising, this plays a pivotal role in improving mental health. All of these put together will help symptoms of several mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression2.

Being active has other positive benefits on mental health, including a sense of achievement, a healthy appetite, having fun, a distraction from negative thoughts, more focus and motivation, and less tension, stress and mental fatigue.

If exercise can be performed outdoors this can have extra benefits on top of the ones already experienced.

Research shows being outside, surrounded by nature, makes people feel more euphoric, positive and reduces levels of depression and anxiety6. For those who live far away from the countryside in cities and built-up areas, simple habits such as actively noticing and paying attention to plants and flowers can trick the brain into creating the same feeling released when in nature.

 

The facts

Studies of the correlation between mental health and regular exercise are damming. It was found that adults have on average, 3.4 poor mental health days per month, which negatively impacts day-to-day life tasks such as working, socialising and house chores. However, further research suggests that for those who regularly exercise, the number of poor mental health days dropped dramatically by more than 40%, which directly correlates to the decrease in depression and anxiety symptoms3.

 

Where to start

 

Weightlifting and extreme sports are a fast and effective way of releasing chemicals within the body and promoting good mental health. But for many people, this type of high-intensity exercise is out of reach. However, simple exercises that are accessible to anybody, including walking, running, and cycling, also ignite this chemical release4.

Making small changes to day-to-day life, such as walking to the shops rather than using a vehicle, spending lunchtimes outside rather than in an office sitting down, and exercising twice a week, can all have a positive impact on mental wellbeing and is an excellent place to start. In addition, exercising with a friend can also be a great addition and can often increase your chances of sticking to your exercise plan, and Better Health found 54% of people found walking or running with a friend made them feel less lonely5.

How often do you need to exercise?

In order to feel the best benefits on mental health from exercising, it is recommended a person do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week, or 75 minutes of high-intensity activity, spread evenly over the seven days.

What counts as moderate exercise?

  • Walking
  • Riding a bike
  • Dancing
  • Yoga
  • Water aerobics

What counts as vigorous exercise?

  • Running
  • Lifting heavy weights
  • Spinning classes
  • Skipping
  • Sports such as football, rugby and tennis
  • HIT (high-intensity interval training)

Overall, the impact of exercise on mental well-being is so great that everyone should be participating. By living a more active lifestyle, you can take charge of your mental health and step closer towards a healthier life, both mentally and physically.

References:

  1. https://www.papyrus-uk.org/latest-statistics/#:~:text=Suicide%20is%20the%20main%20cause,take%20their%20lives%20each%20day.
  2. https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/exercise
  3. https://www.uclahealth.org/news/article/the-link-between-exercise-and-mental-health#:~:text=Researchers%20found%20that%2C%20on%20average,decrease%20in%20depression%20or%20anxiety.
  4. https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/self-help/guides-tools-and-activities/exercise-for-depression/
  5. https://www.better.org.uk/lp/how-exercise-beats-loneliness
  6. https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/nature-and-mental-health/how-nature-benefits-mental-health/#:~:text=Nature%20and%20mental%20health%20problems,with%20mild%20to%20moderate%20depression.

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