It has long been said that fitness is essential for improving an individual’s overall mental health, but some people are still unconvinced. If you or a loved one have been struggling recently and you are looking for solutions that may be able to help with the situation, then this is the article for you. We’re going to talk about the way in which fitness can improve mental health, your mood, and manage stress.
How does fitness help mental health?
So, how does fitness help mental health? The easiest way to look at it is from an evolutionary stand-point. Until recently, homo sapiens (us) were a nomadic species. We spent much of our time on the move, following the seasons, hunting, foraging, and remaining highly active throughout the year.
Fast forward to today and many people do not exercise. In fact, in Australia alone, more than half of the population (55%) to not meet the recommended physical activity guidelines (30-mins a day).
Naturally, this is starting to take its toll on us, both from a physical and mental health perspective.
The fact is, our bodies are designed to require exercise. And if we are eating unhealthy diets and not getting a sufficient amount of exercise, it has a terrible negative effect on us.
But, that doesn’t answer the question: “how does fitness help mental health?”
When we exercise our body releases 3 crucial chemicals (endorphins):
- Dopamine: is a type of neurotransmitter that plays a role in how we feel pleasure. It’s a big part of our unique human ability to think and plan.
- Norepinephrine: acts as both a stress hormone and neurotransmitter.
- Serotonin: is the key hormone that stabilizes our mood, feelings of well-being, and happiness.
So, from this we can see that the body releases valuable chemicals through the body when we exercise and they each play a vital role in improving our overall mental health & well-being. Let’s look at the specifics:
- Depression: Exercise is one of the finest and most natural anti-depressant medications. This is because it doesn’t come with any side-effects and ties in with a wide number of other benefits as well. The fact is, most people become depressed because their bodies aren’t getting the stimulation that they need. Depression can also be linked with feelings of being unfulfilled and unhappy in our own skin. When we exercise regularly, we lose weight and our physical appearance becomes more appealing to ourselves, and other people. This has strong links with feelings of confidence and self-acceptance.
- Anxiety: Anxiety can be caused by a wide number of factors, but can be staved off through regular exercise. It’s about focusing on your body, having more control over your routine, and feeling better in yourself. With greater connection to our physical selves, comes an increase in our overall self-esteem. When we feel good in our own skin, we feel more confident and less anxious when in social situations.
- ADHD: ADHD involves symptoms of both internal and external hyperactivities. By regularly exercising we can improve our focus, motivation, memory, and concentration. Many people with ADHD who exercise regularly have reported on feeling reduces symptoms and greater clarity.
- Stress: If you’ve ever felt stressed, one thing that you will have noticed is a general tightness of the body – especially in the neck and shoulders. The fact is, the body and mind are closely linked together and when you give your body what it needs, your mind will ease up along with your muscles. Releasing these miracle chemicals in your body can help break the cycle of stress. It can also help you focus on the issues that are causing you stress and help you better process them and consider solutions, as you exercise.
- PTSD and Trauma: There is evidence to suggest that focusing on your body while you exercise, can help your nervous system become “unstuck”. Many symptoms of PTSD and trauma can cause the body to seize up cause immobilisation issues, but through regular exercise you can take back control – a liberating feeling that allows your mind to wander freely.
Other mental health benefits of fitness
- Sharper memory and thinking: Exercise helps to stimulate the growth of new brain cells and can even help prevent age-related decline.
- Higher self-esteem: It’s no secret that exercise is linked to weight-loss. When you feel good about your body, you’ll have improved self-esteem.
- Better sleep: Many people who suffer from insomnia don’t do any physical exercise whatsoever. This often leads to poor sleeping patterns because although the mind may be tired, the body hasn’t done any strenuous activities throughout the day.
- More energy: Yes, exercise is tiring, but the more you do it the easier it gets. Plus, when you stimulate your heart-rate regularly, you’ll feel more energised throughout the week.
- Stronger resilience: Regular exercise boosts the immune system and can help combat stress. Not only can this help you to build up more physical resilience, but mental resilience as well.
How does exercise improve mood?
Exercising regularly helps with chronic depression by increasing the amount of serotonin your body produces. This helps to regulate your mood, your sleep, and your appetite. Additionally, exercise can reduce the immune system chemicals in your body that worsen the effects of depression.
Why is exercise good for stress?
Exercising increases, the overall health (both mentally and physically) and increases your sense of well-being. This puts more spring in your step every day and can help you combat the things that are getting you down. Many factors of stress come from not having enough energy to tackle the tasks which begin piling up on top of you. With regular exercise comes better time management and more motivation to get things done.
So, in conclusion, exercise is indeed very good for your mental health. If you’d like to know more about the essentials of strength and conditioning and how they can help improve your overall well-being, then get in touch with a reputable CrossFit gym such as Crossfit Norsemen. There, you can join a growing community of like-minded individuals who share a common goal – self-improvement.
We hope that this article has been helpful for you and wish you the very best with your mental health and physical fitness in the future!