Exercise & Mental Health22 February, 2014 0 comments
EXERCISE & MENTAL HEALTH
In recent years, cases of mental health issues have increased: 1 in 4 people each year in Britain will experience at least one mental health problem, and worldwide, 450 million people are affected by mental health. Luckily, various medical treatments are emerging as scientific research progresses. However, we can all agree that it’s best to avoid these circumstances in the first place.
Exercise, particularly running, is a great way to benefit your mental health. This is because when we exercise relatively intensely, chemicals are released in our brain, which makes us ‘feel good’. These chemicals can help us with concentration, self-esteem, and strengthen our sleeping patterns. The brain is the most complex organ, but it doesn’t take a scientist to work out that exercise will tire us out, enough to give our sleeping patterns a boost!
The same goes for self-esteem: we’re all familiar with that ‘feel-good’ frame of mind when crossing the finish line, beating a personal record, or perhaps just finishing a quick practice lap. In addition, exercise also helps us to achieve a better physique, which will also increase our self-esteem. However we achieve these high confidence levels, the science is the same; increased self-esteem will undoubtedly reduce symptoms of mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression.
Another theory from experts and doctors is that mental health issues often involve the person not feeling in control of their life. Exercise gives people back the control of their bodies, and this leads on to being able to control other things in their life.
However, not all mental health prevention has to be scientific. The time we spend running gives us time to reflect on what’s happening in our lives. The mind often enters a meditative state due to the repetitive motion of running. What do you think about when you run? (Comment below!)
This benefits our mental health, as we’re often encouraged to reflect/meditate by doctors and health experts; but (speaking from experience) it’s very difficult to find the time! Therefore, running is the answer to maintaining not only our physical health, but our mental health as well.Exercising to improve mental health is arguably better than taking drugs to avoid, or overcome mental health issues, if the issue is categorised ‘mild’. Let’s assume for argument sake, that both drugs and exercise can help you overcome a mental health issue. Drugs such as antidepressants can cause common side effects such as feeling sick, dizziness, blurring of vision, and problems sleeping. Exercising such as running can lead to strengthened sleeping patterns, more concentration, and a better physique.
This idea of exercising to improve our mental health also works in the reverse direction: a good mental state is what’s needed to stay committed to running. Here’s an example: For most people who do not run, it’s a choice; either they ‘don’t feel up to it’, or they cannot run (i.e. due to physical injury). Therefore just as many decisions whether to run or not, are based on someone’s mental state, as they are on someone’s physical state.
Don’t do more harm than good. We’ve looked into how exercise can benefit mental health; but on the other hand, don’t let it damage it. Excessive amounts of exercise means less time for other things in your life, which can make you more stressed, therefore increasing the chance of a mental health issue. It is therefore essential to plan and follow up a healthy balance of exercise, to avoid this ‘Exercise Stress’.
In addition, excessive amounts of exercise can obviously cause physical damage, and increases the chance of injury. Do not be afraid to miss a run or take some time out – recovery time is when the body repairs itself; muscle also builds during this time.
So that’s how exercise is important for a good mental state. Now let’s flip those two factors round, because it’s also important that people have a good mental health state for exercise. Why? Going back to the chemicals in the body, too much mental stress could release a natural chemical called Cortisol, which causes the body to ‘hold on’ to fat, therefore reducing the weight floss benefits of exercise.
Again, there are simpler factors than body chemicals: stress makes it easier to make wrong decisions regarding food, which may conflict with an exercise plan. Stress can also make us feel demotivated and therefore less willing to exercise.
When you feel demotivated, or you feel that your mental state is low, the last thing you want to be doing is exercise. For this, it’s useful to run with a friend, so that you can motivate and support each other. JoggingBuddy.com can help you find people to run with in your local area, which can raise your mental state and make you more willing to run. As mentioned, this will have various benefits on your mental and physical health, and allow you to meet new people and make friends.