The Benefits Exercise Has on Your Mental Health; Depression, Anxiety and Stress.
Most of us are fully aware of the detrimental effects inactivity has on our bodies; contributing to chronic diseases such as obesity, cancer, diabetes, as well as early death. But what about the mental effects of inactivity?
Over my years as personal trainer, I have learned the extent to which modern humans battle with mental health. As modern humans, we live in an age completely out of sync with our genetics. High-pressure jobs, financial worries, sleep deprivation, poor nutrition and social isolation have meant mental diseases, such as depression and anxiety, are at record highs in the western world.
Through my own relationship with exercise and from endless client’s own experiences, I have come to realise the positive effects on mental health that exercise has.
Regular exercise increases the volume of certain areas of the brain, by improving oxygen and nutrients supply to the brain through increased blood flow. It also increases neurohormones, such as endorphins that aid neuro signalling, connections and growth.
Exercise also reduces inflammation within the body, which is the main driver of nearly all negative diseases; both mental and physical.
Many studies are revealing that exercise leads to the creation of new neurons within the hippocampus; an area of the brain linked heavily to emotion regulation. Various studies have also shown signs of exercise being as effective as anti-depressants, but without the side-effects of medication.
A study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry followed the mental health of over 22000 people over 11 years. The study found that participants who did not exercise were 44% more likely to become depressed than participants who exercise for a least 2 hours a week.
Psychiatrist Madhukar Trivedi explains: “Exercising 3-4 times a week for 45-60 minutes can help treat even chronic stress. Effects tend to be noticed after about four weeks, and should be maintained for 10-12 weeks for the greatest anti-depressant effect”.
The same endorphins promoted through exercise that make you feel better also improve memory and thinking time. Exercise also helps heighten self-esteem, not just through improving your body shape, but also through creating a sense of self-worth and achievement.
When going through times of stress many turn to alcohol, drugs and other negative behaviours. Throwing yourself into an exercise routine can help you cope in a healthier way; giving you a much needed positive focus that takes your mind off your worries.
Exercise has also been shown to improve sleep quality and patterns. Sleep deprivation is heavily linked to increased stress, depression and anxiety.
Encouraging clients to be open about their mental health, by being open about my own, has given me a wide insight into just how many of us struggle with depression, stress and anxiety. Over the years, after consulting with their doctors, I have helped numerous clients reduce their medication, or even stop their intake entirely. Improving the nutritional quality of their diets and implementing a structured exercise routine into their lives played a large part in this.
Personally, I recommend weight based training when exercising in the gym and doing aerobic activities outside, not in the confines of a gym. The fresh air and vitamin D promoted by he sun hitting our skin helps improve our mood and happiness even more.
Hopefully, now you realise the sense of happiness you have during and after exercising isn’t just in your head (excuse the pun). It is literally science-backed to help improve your mood by reducing stress, depression and even anxiety.
I know the idea of entering a gym for the first time can be scary at the best of times, never mind when suffering from a mental disease. But let this article be the push you need to get in and reap the mental benefits of exercise. Start at a level which feels comfortable to you, and progress your training as your confidence increases.
Finally, appreciate that mental diseases are far more common than you probably think. Only through the openness of my own issues have I realised that and been able to change for the better. Acceptance and normalisation of your mental issues is the first step to improving them.
All the love,
Sam Jones Fitness