The Benefits of Fitness: How Exercise Helps with Mental Health
- Author Jaden Plaatjes
- Published December 1, 2022
- Word count 757
Mental health is something that is often discussed, but not always understood. It is not a single state but rather a combination of different factors. Mental health can range from how we manage stress to the balance between our rational and irrational thinking. Not everyone has perfect mental health, but with time and effort it can be improved. The positive effects of exercise on our physical wellbeing are well-documented, so much so that many now recognize the benefits of fitness on mental health as well. Athletic activities have many positive effects on your brain and general wellbeing, which is why adding some form of exercise to your weekly routine is recommended for maintaining optimum mental health. Keeping active has been scientifically proven to improve concentration, memory, learning capacity, and problem solving skills.
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Understanding Mental Health
Mental health is a broad term that refers to our psychological wellbeing. Stress, mood, and anxiety levels, as well as our ability to handle daily stressesors, are all indicators of our mental health. A mental disorder is a condition that disrupts a person’s ability to function normally. These disorders can be mild or severe, and can affect people of all ages, genders, ethnicities, and socioeconomic groups. There are many factors that can impact mental health. Genetics, environment, and life experiences can all contribute to how we view and manage stress, our emotional state, and our ability to cope with challenging situations.
How Exercise Helps Mental Health
Exercise is commonly associated with improvements to physical health, such as boosting the immune system and strengthening muscles. Exercise is also a great tool for improving mental health and cognition. When we exercise, our bodies produce substances called endorphins. These endorphins are chemicals that are responsible for feelings of euphoria and relaxation. When endorphins are released, they block pain receptors and have a calming effect. Exercise also helps us sleep better, another important factor in maintaining good mental health. It is important to remember that not all exercise is created equally. In order to reap the full benefits of exercise on your mental health, you need to be doing enough activity to get your heart rate up and truly break a sweat.
Exercise and Depression
Exercise has been proven to reduce symptoms of depression. This mental disorder is characterized by feelings of sadness, irritability, and a reduction in interest or pleasure in activities that were previously enjoyed. Some of the biological explanations for how exercise can help a depressed person include an increase in certain neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, that are known to affect mood. Physical activity also helps to regulate the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis which is the connection between physical and mental stress. By doing so, exercise combats the harmful effects of cortisol, the hormone released when we are stressed. It also increases endorphin and serotonin levels. The serotonin in particular is thought to improve mood and alleviate depression and anxiety.
Exercise and Anxiety
Another mental illness that can be alleviated with consistent exercise is anxiety. What causes anxiety varies from person to person. However, there are common themes, such as a fear of the future, or a concern for the safety and wellbeing of loved ones. Exercise is an excellent way to tackle anxiety. It’s important to note that exercise cannot cure anxiety; however, it can help to reduce its symptoms. When you are experiencing the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as a racing heart rate or dizziness, exercise can be an outlet to “let off steam”. It also releases endorphins which can help to calm you down. Exercise also improves the way your body functions, including your cardiovascular and endocrine systems. This allows you to better handle daily stressors, which can reduce anxiety.
Exercise and mental health go hand in hand. The benefits of fitness include increased feelings of self-love and self-worth, improved functionality, sleep quality, and a reduction in the symptoms of several mental illnesses. The most important thing to remember while trying to improve your mental health with exercise is that consistency is key. You won’t see results if you don’t make time for it. Keep track of your progress and make adjustments as needed to keep your routine healthy and effective. Above all, remember that you are worth the effort.
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