Many of us have been told that exercising regularly will make us feel better physically….TRUE. But not only can it make us feel better physically, it can also make us feel better mentally and emotionally. Mental health is a very prevalent topic, that isn’t openly discussed so much, or at least not until recently, and it's something that many people struggle with on a day to day basis. Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. , which is 43.8 million, experience mental illness in a given year. 1 IN 5 ADULTS.....let that sink in, that could potentially be someone that you know. You may not really think much about it, but to put it into perspective a bit more, in a current lecture class that I attend with around 100 students that statistic says that about 20 of those sitting around me are experiencing mental health problems. Treatment for mental disorders can be very pricey but what if I told you that physical activity could be another way to help improve your mental health. Who doesn't want to save some money, right?
There is ongoing research that shows how exercise and mood go hand in hand. One 2018 published study by Lancet Psychiatry analysed data from 1.2 million adults in the USA from the 2011, 2013, and 2015. In the study, they compared the number of days of bad self-reported mental health between individuals who exercised and individuals who didn’t. Their findings showed that individuals who exercised had 1.49 (43.2%) fewer days of poor mental health in the past month than individuals who did not exercise. Although there is more research to be done regarding the connection between mental health and physical activity, the experimental studies that have been done show that regularly incorporating physical activity into your life, helps improve your mood. Such studies also show that regular exercise works as well as medication or for some people it helps to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Exercise can improve mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function.
But what is it about exercise that helps improve mental health, you may ask? Well biologically speaking, when you exercise, the levels of chemicals in the brain, such as serotonin, stress hormones and endorphins change. Endorphins are a type of neurotransmitter that help relieve pain and stress. Exercise also raises your levels of serotonin, which helps boost your mood and overall sense of well-being. Aside from the biological explanation that you may not fully understand, exercising can be a way to distract oneself from bad thoughts that can be caused by mental disorders, like anxiety or depression. By focusing on your body movements, while exercising, you distract yourself and instead of thinking all the negative thoughts, your mind steers away from that to focus on something else. Exercise also increases your energy levels.
Although the studies that have been done are limited, in the way that they don't focus on the amount of time or the type of exercise, experts suggest 30-45 minutes of exercise, at 3 to 5 days a week. If you have an exercise program already, that's great. If you don't, here are a few tips you might want to take into consideration.
1. Find a workout buddy- exercising with someone, can be very beneficial. Having a partner not only makes things more enjoyable but it gives you more of a reason to commit.
2. Find an exercise routine that is fun and enjoyable for you. There's a wide range of activities that you can try out like: club sports, weight lifting, running, dance, yoga, group exercise classes, etc. Find what works for YOU!
3. Set small daily goals.
4. Most importantly go in with a POSITIVE mindset.