When it comes to exercise, many of us are motivated by the thought of getting fitter, stronger, and improving our bodies. However, working out can also be a helpful coping mechanism for people who suffer from mental health issues. When someone’s mental health is poor, their health is often not at the top of their list of priorities, however, exercise has been shown to be hugely effective in calming anxiety and boosting your mood (thank you endorphins!). This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, so we’re sharing just some of the mental health benefits you could experience from getting active:e
Reduced Anxiety & Better Moods
Whether anxiety or depression is something you suffer from, or you’ve just been feeling a little ‘low’, exercise is a great way to boost your mood and calm your anxiety. This is because when we work up a sweat, your brain releases endorphins, also known as “happy hormones”. As Matt Haig said, “running mimics the symptoms [of anxiety]: heart racing, breathlessness, adrenaline pumping. It’s impossible to have a panic attack when you’re running.”
Exercise can help control your cortisol levels, which will help to reduce feelings of stress and tension in your body. Working out is a great way to escape your thoughts and break up negative thought patterns. Focusing on the physical experience – those tired legs and your shortness of breath – is a great distraction and will leave you better able to think clearly.
Anyone who suffers from mental health issues will know that your self-esteem is not usually sky-high during rough times. But seeing your fitness levels improve week on week, is a big self-confidence booster. Achieving little goals, whether that’s a 10-mile bike ride or just managed to leave the house for a run, will give you a sense of achievement and increase your belief in yourself.
Reduced Risk of Depression
The relationship between depression and exercise is a two-way street: a study published by JAMA Psychiatry found that if you’re physically active three times a week, it reduces the odds of being depressed by approximately 16%. So not only can working out reduce your depressive symptoms, but it can also prevent you from suffering with them in the first place!
Improved Social Life
Maintaining a thriving social life isn’t so easy when your mental health is suffering, but spending time with others can do wonders for your overall wellbeing. Joining a sports team or run club can be a much more fun way to gain the benefits of being social as well as the ones from getting physical. If being super social is anxiety-provoking for you, then it’s a great, no-pressure environment where no-one will judge you for running quietly within the pack.