We all know that exercise is one of the best ways to keep fit, lose weight, reduce the risk of physical illnesses, and reduce the symptoms for people experiencing mental health problems. However, not everyone knows exactly what it is about exercise and physical activity that makes it so important to our mental health.

 

The relationship between mental and physical health

We often hear the phrase ‘Mind & Body’ – but these two entities, previously thought to be separate, are now known to be more and more closely related.

Our mental health is something which can change day-by-day, and much like our physical fitness – it can decline if we do not take steps to look after it. Luckily, one of the best ways to keep your mental health in check is to keep yourself physically active!

Now, I know what you are thinking. “Of course, you would say that – you work for a mental health sports charity!” – which is a fair point, so allow me to put across some irrefutable points to convince you.

  • Physical activity promotes the release of hormones that improve mood & sleep[1]that’s right! Exercise and physical activity causes your brain to release endorphins and dopamine – which are ‘feel good’ hormones that lead to improved mood and a feeling of general wellbeing. In addition, exercise can have rapid and delayed effect on melatonin production[2] – meaning that in the short-term, exercise makes you feel awake and gives you a natural energy boost, but increases the amount of melatonin when it comes to night-time making it easier for you to sleep. Actually, this lead us nicely into the next point! 

  • Regular exercise can help you build a good routine – when exercise and physical activity is incorporated into our weekly routine; it can have positive benefits such as helping us structure our days and assist with us getting to sleep and waking up in good time each morning. It doesn’t take long to create good habits, and a good sleeping pattern is the perfect base to build from!

  • Physical activity reduces the symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress[3]this is perhaps the main reason why exercise is so powerful. As an example, people who attended Sport in Mind sessions, 86% reported a reduction in the symptoms of stress and anxiety, and 82% reported reduction in the symptoms of depression.[4] One of the main reasons for this is the production of feel-good hormones above – but also a reduction in the amount of cortisol which is released by the brain. Cortisol is the main stress-causing hormone and if the levels in our bodies get too high – it can lead to us feeling stressed, having troubling sleeping and increase the symptoms of other mental health problems. Fortunately, exercise is a great way to reduce these levels and keep them at a healthy level.[5]

  • Exercise and physical activity can improve our self-esteem and confidence[6]as you get more involved in exercise, you will naturally start to build your fitness and see yourself improving in whichever form of physical activity you are taking part in. Perhaps you will notice that you are running for longer periods of time or starting to hit the shuttlecock more regularly in badminton – it doesn’t take thousands of hours to see a difference, even an hour a week can lead to you seeing huge developments in your own ability! Furthermore, if combined with a healthy diet – you will start to lose weight and build muscle, which can be very beneficial for self-esteem and self-confidence.

  • You don’t have to exercise alone – If you ask us here at Sport in Mind, the best thing about exercise, sport and physical activity is that you can do it with other people! This is obviously a little trickier at the moment – but as things slowly return to normal this will be become a possibility once again. Socialisation is perhaps not the first thing we think of when we think of exercise – but the benefits are massive. Exercising with other people can lead to us performing better in sport and a boost to those feel good hormones we mentioned earlier!

 

Why is exercise so important right now?

It is more important to be exercising and keeping active now more than ever. Levels of loneliness and social isolation are at an all-time high and it can all be quite overwhelming. Exercise is a brilliant tool that can help us cope with the daily stressors that life throws at us and can help us develop routine, structure and good habits.

We recommend finding any way you can to keep active at the moment – it could be walking, running, cycling, gardening, yoga, pilates; anything you can think of that can help you enjoy all of the amazing benefits that exercise and physical activity can bring!

References: 

[1] - https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/exercise-and-stress/art-20044469#:~:text=Exercise%20increases%20your%20overall%20health,%2Dgood%20neurotransmitters%2C%20called%20endorphins.

[2]- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9406031/#:~:text=Accumulating%20evidence%20suggests%20that%20exercise,12%20to%2024%20h%20later 

[3] - https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/how-to-using-exercise 

[4] - https://www.sportinmind.org/the-difference-we-make 

[5] - https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/exercising-to-relax#:~:text=Exercise%20reduces%20levels%20of%20the,natural%20painkillers%20and%20mood%20elevators 

[6] - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5068479/