The benefits of exercise on your mental health

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Claudia Brooks, Third Year Film and Theatre

When we discuss mental health, most people love to promote the importance of exercise and the whole range of benefits it brings. Is exercise really the best way to boost your mental health?

It is common knowledge that exercise is great for your physical health – having a healthy heart has been said to minimise the risk of developing diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease and type II diabetes. Regular exercise can improve quality of life as well as reap long-term benefits. On top of this, it has been said to improve your quality of sleep and boost your sex life.

So how can exercise also be used to tackle issues within our mental well-being? You do not have to be a fitness fanatic to feel the impact on your welfare as modest physical activities can make the difference. Most of us are aware that endorphins are released in our brain to reduce pain and transcends us into a state of euphoria. These neurotransmitters lie at the basis of how physical activity affects our mood and generally just makes us feel good. Endorphins release this natural feeling of pleasure and surprisingly use the same receptors in the brain as opioids – however, I would not recommend the latter.

Delving into one of the most common mental health issues of our present day, depression is a constant daily battle for each person diagnosed with it. Having been told from the age of 12 about my depressive nature, there were/are/will be days where I cannot even leave my bed. Do not confuse this for laziness but in truth, the feeling is too complex to explore within a mere few sentences. Exercise is a very powerful fighter for symptoms of depression for all manner of reasons, one of which include promoting a new activity pattern which serves as a sort of distraction by allowing sufferers to energise their spirits and concentrate on something other than the negative thoughts that often drown away any chance of having a productive and beneficial day. Most people with depression will realise that it is a life-long battle and not some thing to “get over”.

Recovering and relapsing from depression are both multifaceted and have no one way around them. As previously argued, keeping active can act as a natural antidepressant and researchers have found that it is just as successful as prescriptive drugs such as (Zoloft) sertraline. Undeniably, do not expect to have a boost in your mood just by running to your favourite club on a rainy Tuesday night so that your hipster trousers do not get wet. What is being said is that significant difference is felt once you adopt physical activity as a regular, ongoing life hobby.

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Another mental health issue currently being battled by many of us in society is anxiety. If you are ignorant in this matter, being anxious is not defined as simply being stressed about an exam or worrying whether you can keep up with your friends at the Coronation Tap. Without trying to sound overdramatic, anxiety is a feeling of acute and disabling trepidation – fearing the unknown in most cases. Often debilitating, symptoms can be eased, and a simple solution is by getting active. Simply put, the distraction helps to think of anything other than the flow of constant worries rushing through the mind. Focus is often put towards facets of awareness such as how the body is moving, what are the best ways to get the most out of the workout or on the rhythm of your breathing – this mindfulness element will aid in the release of troublesome thoughts. Exercising is an effective way of breaking the cycle of constant anxiety and worry, ultimately giving you a type of liberation from your mind and by the end of it, you may even find yourself turning into one of those fitness fanatics once you gain the appreciation for it.

This article is in no way encouraging you to exercise until you are in a good mood (reaching the point of exhaustion) nor is it suggesting that all your problems will be resolved through working out but simply pointing to the usefulness of getting out and working towards a better physical wellbeing – inevitably improving your mental health alongside it. All that matters is that you put in the effort as nothing good comes to those who stay in bed and wait for the day of happiness to rise upon them. Make it fun and join a Zumba class if the stereotypical work-outs aren’t for you but go and do something to get active.

Featured Image: Epigram / Marina Afzal-Khan


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