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Exercise and mental health

Look after your mental health with exercise

Exercise is not just about getting fitter, building muscle or losing weight.

Very often, these elements alone are not enough to motivate most people to get – and stay – active.

You’ll find that people who exercise regularly are often doing it to give themselves a sense of wellbeing. They feel more energetic throughout the day, sleep better at night and have sharper memories. They also feel more relaxed and positive about themselves and their lives.

Not only does exercise boost our feeling of wellbeing, it’s also considered to be a powerful medicine for many common mental health challenges such as depression, anxiety and stress – here we explain why.

Exercise and depression

Studies show that exercise can treat mild to moderate depression as effectively as antidepressant medication, but without the side-effects.

In addition to relieving depression symptoms, research also shows that maintaining a regular exercise schedule can prevent you from relapsing back into your previous state. 

Exercise is a powerful depression fighter for several reasons:

Most importantly, it promotes vital changes in our brains, including neural growth, reduced inflammation and new activity patterns that promote feelings of calm and wellbeing.

You’ve probably heard the word ‘endorphins’ before and it’s true – exercise releases these powerful chemicals in your brain that lift your spirits, give you more energy and make you feel good.

Finally, exercise can also serve as a powerful distraction, giving you some quiet time to break out of the cycle of negative thoughts that can feed depression.

Exercise and anxiety

Exercise is a natural and effective anti-anxiety treatment – fact! It relieves tension and stress, boosts physical and mental energy and enhances wellbeing through the release of endorphins (as mentioned above).

Basically, any exercise that gets you moving can help ease feelings of anxiety, but you’ll get a bigger benefit if you pay attention to what you’re doing instead of zoning out.

For example, going for a long walk with the dog is perfect if you notice your surroundings, feel your feet hitting the floor and focus on taking in the fresh air, but sitting on a bench and letting your mind wander won’t be as effective.

By adding this element of mindfulness and really focusing on your body and how it feels as you exercise, you’ll not only improve your physical condition faster, but you may also be able to interrupt the flow of constant worries running through your head.

Exercise and stress

You might often hear people telling you exercise is a stress-buster… and they’d be right!

How does your body feel when you’re under stress? Your muscles may be tense, especially in your face, neck, and shoulders, leaving you with back or neck pain, or painful headaches.

You may even feel a tightness in your chest, a pounding pulse, or muscle cramps. Insomnia, heartburn and stomach ache can also come along as stress symptoms and the worry and discomfort of all these physical symptoms combined can lead to even more stress, creating a vicious cycle between your mind and body.

Exercising is an effective way to break this cycle. As well as releasing endorphins in the brain, physical activity helps to relax the muscles and relieve tension in the body.

Since the body and mind are so closely linked, when your body feels better, so will your mind.