Exercise is commonly associated with physical fitness and weight management, but its impact on mental wellbeing is more significant than most people realise.
An increasing body of evidence reveals that physical activity offers powerful psychological benefits.
Overall, activity is good for mental health because it has a profound impact on brain chemistry, emotional well-being, and cognitive function, contributing to a more positive and resilient mental state.
"The mind and body are not separate. What affects one, affects the other." - Anonymous
Exercise affects the brain in multiple ways. Physical activity triggers the release of neurotransmitters like endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin. Endorphins are natural mood lifters, dopamine contributes to feelings of pleasure and reward, and serotonin regulates mood and reduces anxiety.
Physical activity can serve as a healthy distraction, taking your mind off negative thoughts and emotions. It can also be a positive coping mechanism to deal with stress, anxiety, and depression.
Exercise has been shown to improve cognitive functions such as memory, attention, and problem-solving. It stimulates the growth of new brain cells and improves brain plasticity.
Physical activity also helps regulate stress hormones like cortisol, reducing their negative impact on mental health.
Many people find that it gives their brain some breathing space, and getting outside into fresh air and nature can have a powerfully positive impact on how we feel.
Engaging in regular physical activity has been associated with a reduced risk of developing mental health disorders over time. Regular exercise can improve self-esteem and body image, leading to a more positive self-perception and outlook on life. Participating in group activities or sports can foster social connections and reduce feelings of isolation, which is crucial for mental well-being.
Certain activities, like yoga or dancing, promote mindfulness and the experience of flow, where individuals become fully absorbed in the activity, leading to a sense of happiness and contentment.
Contrary to popular belief, you don't need to exhaust yourself to experience the mood-enhancing benefits of exercise. Engaging in just 15 to 20 minutes of aerobic exercise three times a week can significantly benefit your brain.
Aerobic activities, such as brisk walking, running, and swimming, have been shown to be particularly effective in reducing stress, anxiety, and depression.
But any activity you do will help, especially if you’re starting out from a period of inactivity.
If you’ve been inactive for a while, you'll find that the hardest part of being active is actually getting moving in the first place.
Starting small is often the best approach. Even doing one minute of activity everyday can help. And once you’ve started doing that, aim to do 5 minutes and build it up for there.
For many people the hardest walk is the one to put their trainers on, but if you aren’t too ambitious to start with, you might break the cycle of inactivity more easily.
And when's the best time to start? Today!
Consistency is key. Incorporating exercise into your existing daily or weekly routine helps you to establish longer-term healthy habits. For example, could you walk to the shops instead of drive?
Find an activity that you enjoy, whether it's walking with friends, dancing, roller skating, or a quick 10-minute HIIT workout.
To make the habit stick, having a set time of the week when you do your exercise can help. Try building activity into your daily routine, cycling to work or going for a brief walk before starting work.
Think about frequency, you'll find that daily habits are easier to form than weekly or monthly habits.
Remember, it's important to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new exercise regimen, especially if you have any underlying health conditions or concerns. Better safe than sorry.
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