The benefits of exercise are not just limited to the physical adaptions of building stronger muscles, increasing lung capacity and gaining fitter hearts. Exercise also has a powerful impact on our minds that can lead to profound improvements in our mental and emotional wellness.
Over the last few months I have been thinking a lot about how we can improve our mental wellness, particularly at this time with so many of us seeking extra support, I have been wondering what can we do for ourselves to improve a low mood, and how we can make exercise a part of our wellness tool kits?
In my years working as a fitness coach I have encountered numerous people (including myself), who have experienced a significant improvement in their mental health through regular exercise. Exercise can in fact help in treating a range of mental health problems including stress, anxiety and depression - but how does this happen?
Put simply - when we exercise feel-good chemicals in the brain known as endorphins are released. These neurotransmitters boost our mood as well as relieving pain and stress by triggering the release of the mood improving hormone serotonin. Serotonin is known as the brains natural ‘anti-depressant’ and physical movement improves the rate at which serotonin is released in the brain.
Some reasons to get your trainers on
· Exercise can also increase the size of the hippocampus in the brain, increasing memory capacity and connections between nerve cells which may protect the mind from injury and mental illness.
· Aerobic exercise regulates our breathing and increases our lung capacity therefore improving our uptake of oxygen which then reduces restricted breathing that is associated with stress and anxiety.
· It improves our energy levels and motivation. Regular exercise helps to fight fatigue linked to low mood.
· Poor mental health often goes hand in hand with aches and pains, exercise can help to alleviate these by increasing blood flow to the muscles and reducing joint stiffness.
· Activities such as Yoga & Pilates can improve poor posture that is often found in those with low self-esteem. These activities also stretch out muscle tension and improve breathing therefore aiding relaxation. If you’re interested in reading more about how Yoga is shown to improve anxiety here is a fantastic article: https://www.the-cma.org.uk/Articles/Yoga-shown-to-improve-anxiety-6372/
· Exercise gives us opportunities to make social connections with those outside our family network. Taking part in activities with others reduces feelings of isolation and can connect us to people with shared interests.
· Taking exercise outdoors is another way to enhance your wellbeing. Being surrounded by nature away from the internet, news channels or the mundanity of household chores can be a welcome distraction; even a daily walk outdoors can make a significant difference to your mental wellness.
My top tips for exercise motivation
If the above isn’t enough to googling places to buy yoga mats here are a few tips to give you a little extra motivation…
· Find an activity you enjoy - it really will improve your motivation and there really is something for everyone. If you love music, why not try dancing? If you have strong legs, try cycling. If the thought of getting sweaty is unbearable, try something gentler like Pilates.
· If you can, get outside into the fresh air and enjoy nature at the same time and get a double dose of those feel-good chemicals.
· Find a buddy, even if you don’t exercise together you can encourage one another to do something each day and make yourselves accountable on days when you might feel lazy!
The benefits of exercise in improving our mental health are often underappreciated, but hopefully this little piece of insight into how and why it can hugely enhance our wellbeing will encourage you to begin using this amazing tool to increase your mental wellness.