The prevalance of mental illness is rapidly increasing in the western world, and our dependance on prescription medication has become an epidemic. However recent research would suggest that we have all the tools needed to implement a real, lasting solution- and we’ve had them all along! Exercise and mental health are a package deal, two facets of holistic health that complement each other. Of course, we already know that exercise is good for our physical self, so instead let’s dive into the effects of regular exercise on our psychology, and how it is helping us to re-wire our bodies and our minds.
Mental Health: The Facts and Figures
Before we look at the ways exercise can help our state of mind, it’s important we understand the full scope of mental health, and it’s related issues.
It has been reported that:
- 1 in 5 adults experiences some form of mental illness every year.
- 50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14, and 75% by age 24
- Rates of depression in young adults are increasing rapidly, 8.7 percent in 2005 to 12.7 percent in 2015.
- Suicide has now become the second leading cause of death in the 10 to 34-year-old age bracket, and the fourth leading cause in people aged between 35 and 54.
- Anxiety is the leading reported mental illness, accounting for 20% of diagnosis, followed by major depressive episodes at 7%.
It can be easy to sit back and assume that these things will never happen to you. However, the flow-on effects of mental health issues- whether they’re experienced by you, or the result of your influence/example over other people- can affect the physical and mental wellbeing of those around you:
- People with depressive illnesses are 40% more likely to develop cardiovascular or other metabolic/physiological diseases
- In 2018, almost 20% of adults with mental illness also experienced a substance use disorder in the U.S. That’s 9.2 million people.
- Mental illness also increases rates of unemployment and highschool dropouts.
- The search for, and over-reliance on, a ‘quick fix’ has led to the opioid crisis, where the overprescription of opioid-based medicines is the leading cause of deaths caused by drug overdose- almost 68%.
It’s time to go back to the basics. Placing the emphasis on exercise for mental health, rather than prescription medications. Research has shown the impact, and onset, of mental health issues, is particularly prevalent in young people. Turning back to physical activity as a solution not only positively impacts our lives, it creates the right foundation and examples for our children. It is also key to the ongoing support and development of our communities.
Physiology Psychology: How Does Exercise Affect our Mental Health?
We all know that physical activity, in any shape and form, can do wonders for our fitness and physique. When it comes to the mental effects of this exercise, however, it can be argued that it is even more beneficial for our state of wellbeing.
And whilst you don’t need to spend hours per day in the gym or pushing your body past the point of exhaustion, you do indeed need to be active, engaged and present. It is recommended that you participate in some sort of aerobic activity, for at least 30 minutes, 3 times per week. This can be a brisk walk, jog, cycle, swim, anything that elevates the heart rate or requires some mental focus.
With this in mind (no pun intended), let’s look at 6 positive effects of exercise on mental health, and why we should all be aiming to squeeze a little more from our day!
1. Exercise Can Reduce Depression and Anxiety
Endorphines are known as ‘mood-boosting’ neurochemicals. They are produced naturally in the brain and bind to our opioid receptors to regulate pain perception. Exercising, or any sustained physical activity has been shown to ease symptoms of depression and anxiety by stimulating our production of endorphins.
2. Say Goodbye to Alzheimer’s
Consistent exercise has been shown to positively affect the amygdala, which moderates our stress responses. It has also been shown to affect the hippocampus, which plays a role in the formation of memory and neural plasticity. It is this lack of plasticity as we age that is responsible for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.
3. Exercise Regulates Mood and Sleep
Sleeping is our body’s chance to recharge and repair after a hard day’s work. However, with our constant exposure to blue light (thanks to phones, TV’s and computers), we now live in a society where more than 30% of people suffer from insomnia. This increases to 40-60% over the age of 60!
Physical activity can not only help you regulate your sleep patterns (say being more mentally alert in the morning, after exercise), you actually earn the rest at the end of the day.
4. Improve Confidence and Self Esteem
Exercising for mental health isn’t just about ‘curing’ something. It can also have long-lasting effects on our emotional states of being, including boosting our confidence and self-esteem. Not only do the physical benefits of exercise lead to these improved states, the social impact of exercising with other people- say in team sports or group training- can also enhance these feelings.
5. Relieve Tension and Excess Energy
Our bodies are designed to utilize and expel energy. It has only been in the last 50 years that sedentary, desk-based jobs have become the norm. Unfortunately for most of us, this also means we are overconsuming food without burning off the energy it provides. Not to mention the overstimulation that often comes with a caffeine-rich diet.
Exercising can help to relieve the muscle tension we develop from hours in seated positions, loosening muscles and putting us into the correct postural positions, whilst burning off all that excess energy at the end of the day! This, in turn, reduces our states of anxiety and mental alertness, giving us the chance to get a better night’s rest and jump out of bed in the morning.
6. Get Back in Touch With Nature
More recently, research has begun to show how being outdoors/in nature can supplement and enhance the effects of exercise on mental health. By being outside for a mere 20 minutes per day, participants reported increased feelings of ‘happiness and vitality,’ and it has been suggested that the mere presence of nature can ward off feelings of exhaustion. If there’s ever been a better reason to get outside and go for a walk, we haven’t heard it!
With all of these positive neural and emotional effects, it’s safe to say that exercising and mental health go hand in hand. By understanding these impacts, we can improve our own wellbeing, and positively affect the wellbeing of our children, families, and communities.
If you’re finding it hard to get started or would like some advice about the right types of exercise for you, we’re here to help! With a host of online support and training available, free health assessments, and an emphasis on cultivating improved mental states, TurnFit can help you to achieve your health and wellness goals, safely.