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Why Exercise is Good For Your Mental Health


In the hustle and bustle of our modern lives, where deadlines loom and responsibilities weigh heavy, the impact of exercise on mental health often goes unnoticed. In the midst of our daily grind, we tend to overlook the transformative power that physical activity holds, not just for increasing physical health but for improving our overall well-being, including mental health.

Beyond the physical benefits of exercise, such as a toned physique, reducing your risk of heart disease and increased muscle and bone mass, exercise also acts as a powerful elixir for the mind. When exercising, the brain releases a number of neurotransmitters, including endorphins, endocannabinoids, and dopamine, which all lead to a state of greater mental health and well-being. 

Applied Nutrition is conscious of the impact exercise can have on mental health, and it is why we are wanting to spread awareness of exercise’s importance to staying healthy and happy. This blog will talk about the symbiotic relationship between exercise and mental health, the benefits of exercise for mental health, how to get started with exercise, things to consider, and some helpful tips to stay on track. 


How Does Exercise Benefit Your Mental Health?

Exercise causes your brain to release 'feel good' chemicals like endorphins and serotonin that help improve your mood. Doing physical activity can not only uplift your mood, but also distract you from negative thought patterns that can lead you to spiral. There are many ways that exercise benefits your mental health: 

Sharper Memory 

You may find that when you exercise, your memory becomes sharper and you have less trouble recalling events. You may also find that you’re able to work out sums and write logical answers a lot easier too! This is due to the release of endorphins, which not only make you feel better but can increase your memory. As well as this, Exercise also stimulates the growth of new brain cells and helps prevent age-related decline¹, keeping your memory sharper for longer.

Higher Self-Esteem and Confidence

Regular exercise can help to foster your sense of self-worth and make you feel strong and powerful. When you’re able to lift something heavier easier than you thought, or you’re able to run for longer, you feel a sense of achievement at what you accomplished. In turn, you’ll not only feel more confident, but feel better about your appearance too!

Exercise has also been found to alleviate symptoms such as low self-esteem and social withdrawal. A study by Guszkowska² illustrated the benefits of exercise and how it helps with feelings of low self-esteem, showing reductions in symptoms of anxiety and depression after a single session of exercise. 

Reduces Symptoms of Depression Faster than Antidepressants

In line with Guszkowska’s study, an analysis by Morres et al.³ revealed as little as four weeks of exercise reduced symptoms of depression in people with major depressive disorder. This is less time than it takes for most antidepressant medications to work. 

Better Sleep 

Even short bursts of exercise in the morning or afternoon can help regulate your sleep patterns. A good sleep is important to both your physical and mental health⁴. In turn, good quality sleep heals and repairs your heart and blood vessels, supports healthy growth and development and also decreases your risk of health problems. Sleep can help to both give you more energy and help make you feel more alert. If you prefer to exercise at night, relaxing exercises such as yoga or gentle stretching can help promote sleep.

Helps You to Cope with Challenges

Exercise can be a great tool to utilise against mental or emotional challenges in life. When you are faced with such challenges, hitting the gym can help you build resilience and cope in a healthy way, instead of resorting to alcohol, drugs, or other negative behaviours that ultimately only make your symptoms worse. 

How Do I Start Exercising?

Embarking on a fitness journey may seem daunting, but taking small manageable steps can make a significant difference.  Government guidelines suggest that adults should aim to do 150 minutes of moderate activity a week, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity a week.

Moderate activity is classed as an activity where you can hold a conversation with someone if they were beside you, such as brisk walking, hiking or cycling. Vigorous activity is when you can only get a few words out between breaths, such as running, HIIT workouts or strength and conditioning training. The NHS website has different examples of activities you could try⁵ as well as free online exercise videos⁶. 

When starting to exercise, it's important to stay within your limits and not push yourself too soon as this could lead to injury. If you are not usually active, consider starting with simple activities such as cooking, hoovering, cleaning, or going grocery shopping. 

Try to build up to 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day, such as walking, swimming and cycling.  If you have a smart-watch or a pedometer, you can also monitor your steps and see how many steps you are doing per day. Set yourself step goals to reach each day - if you are inactive, even doing 1500 steps a day is better than nothing! Eventually, try to aim for 8000 - 10,000 steps per day. 

You don’t even need to go to a gym to exercise either. You can begin exercising in the comfort of your own home, such as your living room or bedroom, outside in your garden or at a park or beach, and you can eventually even join a weekly class! 
Consider ways you can incorporate exercise into your daily routine and lifestyle.

This can be taking a walk around the block on your lunch break, setting yourself small goals to reach each week, taking a friend with you to an exercise class, or downloading an app to exercise in the comfort of your own home. When starting exercise, pick something you enjoy, and remember, it’s okay not to like an activity as there are plenty of forms of exercise to choose from. 

 

Things to Consider Before Getting Started

If you have a mental health condition, there may be factors that affect the amount or type of physical activity you can do. Before diving into a new fitness routine, consider these key factors to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience:

You Take Regular Medication

If you take regular medication, this can affect the types and intensity of exercise you can do. Taking medication such as beta-blockers means your heart works harder during exercise, so you may need to decrease the intensity of the exercise you do. ADHD medications can affect temperature regulation, which can lead to increased sweating and dehydration. Stimulants also cause tremors and agitation, which can increase your risk of injuries. Talk to your doctor before you start exercising or if you change your medication.

Your Medication/Mental Health Condition Makes You Feel Tired

A class of antidepressants, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), can cause extreme fatigue and drowsiness, which can make it harder for you to exercise. 

It’s important to work with your body and mood. If your medication makes you feel tired in the morning, try working out in the evening. Even if you can’t manage a workout, a short walk can help clear your mind and boost your energy levels. Do what you can, when you can. 

You Are Recovering From an Eating Disorder

While exercise can be a positive part of recovery, some people with an eating disorder find they are over-exercising. As well as this, the more physical activity you do, the more energy you need, and you may feel hungrier than usual. This could be a problem if you have a difficult relationship with food, such as an eating disorder, or if you are on a certain diet. You might need to adapt certain activities for your safety, or avoid some activities. You can speak to your GP if you need more advice.

You Have Anxiety/Experience Panic Attacks

The way you feel when you get active can mimic the symptoms of anxiety or panic attacks. This can be distressing for you and could even trigger a panic attack or increased anxiety. If you are worried that this may happen to you, try low-impact activities such as yoga, pilates and incline walking. Once you are accustomed to this, you can then start to slowly build up the intensity. Exercising with someone such as a friend or family member may help you feel reassured that help is available if you feel anxious, and can also help you to know that you are both in this together. 

 

Tips to Help You Stay on Track

Here are a few tips to help you start and maintain your exercise plan:

1. Define your goals

Whether you want to lose weight, tone up, increase endurance or gain muscle, defining your goals early on will allow you to take small, sustainable steps to reaching them this year!

2. Eat well

Eating well is essential for any fitness journey. Fuel your body with a balanced diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables and protein such as Critical Whey or Beef-XP.

3. Start slow and gradually build intensity  

A common mistake is to dive headfirst into long, intense workouts. However, this can lead to injury, burnout and frustration. Start slow and steady, and remember, fitness is a marathon, not a sprint!

4. Find activities you enjoy

To stay motivated, find activities you enjoy. Exercise doesn’t have to be a chore! If you need an extra boost, why not try our ABE Ultimate Pre-Workout

5. Stay hydrated 

Optimal hydration is essential for a successful fitness journey. Stay hydrated during the day, making sure to drink at least 2 litres of liquid a day. Give your intake a boost with BODYFUEL™ for the ultimate hydration experience.

 

Incorporating regular exercise into your routine is a transformative step toward better mental health and wellbeing. The benefits extend beyond how it affects the body. Regular exercise positively impacts mood, stress levels, sleep, and cognitive function.

By starting with manageable goals, finding activities you enjoy, and taking it one day at a time, you can reap the benefits of exercise for your mental well-being. Think about it, one day or is this your day one? Applied Nutrition is here to support your health and fitness goals every step of the way. CLICK HERE to view our full range of products. 

 

By Shannon Gaskell

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  1. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/alzheimers-dementia-aging/age-related-memory-loss.htm

  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1470658/#i1523-5998-8-2-106-b3

  3. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/da.22842

  4. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/sleep-deprivation/health-effects

  5. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/

  6. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/nhs-fitness-studio/

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