The benefits that exercise can have on your mental health

Mental Health

Em Batger

October is mental health awareness month. According to the World Health Organisation 1 in 8 people (that’s 970 million people worldwide) live with a mental health disorder. In Australia 1 in 5 people aged 16-85 have experienced a mental health disorder in the past 12 months. These are quite confronting statistics. 

Regardless of whether you have a lived experience of mental health or not such events can provide an opportunity to pause and take check of your mental head space and that of those around you. It’s also a chance to consider things that you could do to improve your mental health.  

One of the most important things I do for may mental health is exercise, in some way, every day. Some days its a walk with the kids, other days it's a home pilates session.  

Why exercise? 

It's generally well known that exercise can improve your physical health in many ways from building muscle, increasing your aerobic capacity or shrinking your waistline.  

What may surprise some of you is that often it’s not these physical benefits that actually motivate people to engage in exercise; but rather what exercise can do for your mental state. 

If you are someone who regularly exercises you can probably relate to that feeling of complete wellbeing that comes over you when you finish your training session. There’s that little bounce in your step, you feel focused, you feel energetic and more than likely you feel pretty damn good about yourself.  

Why the somewhat euphoric feeling? The complex and fascinating science behind how our brains work is hard too summarise, but what we do know, in a nutshell, is this. 

Research tells us that exercise: 

  • Promotes neural changes within the brain that ultimately create a sense of calm and wellbeing within your body.  

  • There is a release of a some wonderful hormones; dopamine, seratonin, norepinephine and endorphins all of which have a positive impact on ones energy, their ability to concentrate and focus their attention. 

  • Exercise is essentially a ‘circuit breaker’ for many people. A chance for you to step away from the stressful things in life, disconnect and focus on something else. A method of pure distraction that occupies our mind but can relax our muscles and reduce overall tension. 

The great news is that you don’t have to be a complete fitness fanatic to reap the benefits.  

Modest levels of exercise can have a positive impact on depression, anxiety, stress and ADHD. In some cases exercise is equal in benefit to some of the pharmacological options that can be prescribed for sufferers of some mental health illnesses. Exercise can be your drug.  

Despite knowing all the positive ways that exercise can impact our minds some people face real obstacles to taking that first step, particularly those struggling with a mental health issue. Start with small achievable goals that are surrounded purely around moving your body each day. Find something that you will enjoy, that’s fun. Involve your friends and your family.  

Whats good for the body is good for the mind. 

If you know someone that is struggling with mental health illness reach out to them this month. Check in with them. You never know whose life you may influence by simply asking someone how they are feeling.  

Em Batger

Please note: Em's blog is general advice only. For further information on this topic, please consult your healthcare professional.

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