Benefits of Exercise
We’re all aware of the benefits of exercise to our physical health, with strong evidence showing that being physically active can help to lead a healthier and happier life. But research also shows that physical activity can improve mental wellbeing, boosting self-esteem, mood, sleep quality and energy, as well as reducing the risk of depression and stress, as well as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. There is evidence to show that there is a link between being physically active and having good mental wellbeing; this is feeling good about yourself and about the world around you.
Adults should aim to be active every day, but this doesn’t mean spending hours in the gym if this isn’t what appeals to you. There are so many exercises to try, whether this is walking, running or jogging, swimming, cycling, tennis, or a gym class. Find an exercise which you enjoy and try to introduce this to your daily routine; one of the easiest ways to get active is by walking or cycling instead of using the car.
How does exercise help mental wellbeing?
Research shows that physical activity can help to maintain and improve mental wellbeing in a number of ways, reducing depression and anxiety, amongst other things. Physical activity releases hormones in the brain called endorphins. These help to positively change our mood, wellbeing and how we feel about our surroundings, which in turn brings about a greater sense of self-esteem.
It’s particularly important to improve physical activity if you struggle with your mental health, as evidence has shown that people with mental health challenges are more likely to:
- Be overweight (although this can often be a side effect of taking medication)
- Have a poor diet
- Be a smoker
- Drink too much alcohol
There are many benefits to your mental health by being more physically active, such as:
- Reduced stress
- An increase in confidence and self-esteem
- Reduced anxiety, therefore increasing feelings of happiness
- Reduced risk of depression
- Being able to think more clearly
- Feelings of calm due to having more space and time to think things over
Reduces stigma and discrimination
As well as physical activity and exercise having great benefit to mental health, it also helps to challenge the stigma and discrimination around mental health too! Many people have said that joining exercise groups and clubs has helped to break down barriers and raise awareness of mental health.
Real life experience
When my mind is really busy and I can’t grasp on to thoughts as they whizz through my head, I have found a great deal of comfort from running. Pulling on my trainers and going out in the cold, I feel removed from the hustle and bustle of my daily life yet connected to the Earth somehow. I tell myself 'just one foot in front of the other.' The rhythmically pounding of my feet on the pavement combined with the soothing sound of my exaggerated breathing brings my thoughts into the minute. I am there in the moment, feeling the burn in my leg muscles and escaping the worry and anxiety in my head. Nothing matters other than getting to the next lamppost, the next corner, the park. If I can just get through this, I can get through anything.
Once I return home after 1 mile or 10, I feel proud, I have done something, achieved something. I am not worthless, my body is strong, my head can be too. Running is no quick fix magic cure but I know I can rely on the fact that my mood is always better afterwards than when I set off, and my mind always much calmer.