We all know how important exercises are to keep us physically fit. Be it cardio, strength and conditioning, basic rehabilitation, HIIT or any other form of exercises. But did you know how that exercise and mental health can help us to keep ourselves physically and mentally fit ?
Research shows that people who exercise regularly have better mental health and emotional wellbeing, and also lower rates of mental illness. Rates of depression and anxiety are at their highest recorded levels in countries like India, China, USA and UK. Undoubtedly, many aspects of “modern life” namely increasing social isolation, poor diets, a focus on money and image, contribute to this state. However inactivity is another key factor. Research suggests that physical activity for mild depression can be as effective as antidepressants or psychological treatments like cognitive behavioural therapy.
Exercise is well known to stimulate the body to produce endorphins and encephalis, the body’s natural feel-good hormones which can make problems seem more manageable. The simple act of focussing on exercise can give us a break from current concerns and damaging self-talk. Further, depending on the activity, people may benefit from calming exercises, to be energized, and get outside or interact with others, all of which are known to improve the mental health.
Exercising directly affects the brain. Regular exercise increases the volume of certain brain regions, in part through better blood supply that improves neuronal health by improving the delivery of oxygen and nutrients, and through an increase in neurotropic factors and neurohormones that support neuron signalling, growth and connections. Of critical importance for mental health is the hippocampus, an area of the brain involved in memory, emotion regulation, and learning. Studies in other animals show that exercises lead to creation of new hippocampal neurons (neurogenesis), with preliminary evidence suggesting this is also true in humans.
If exercising is not already a part of your routine, you might be wondering how much you need to do to give your mental health a boost. The really good news is exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous or take a long time. Studies show a moderate level of exercise is enough. That’s roughly the equivalent of walking fast, but being able to talk to someone at the same time. Experts suggest 30 minutes of exercise at least 5 days a week can make a big difference. It can be one 30 minute session, or several shorter 10-15 minutes sessions.
Make exercise part of your everyday activity. Try walking or cycling instead of using the car. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Spend sometime walking your kids to school and back home. The HEAL Institute can give you more information. The important thing is to keep moving and sit less everyday!