In part 1 of my post regarding exercise and mental health, I discussed the negative aspects which can result from the stresses of exercise. Fortunately, its not all bad news. There are many positive benefits which exercise can have for mental health, which I will discuss in this article.
Observations in research studies show that during exercise, the body releases endorphins. Endorphins are structurally similar to morphine and, as such, produce natural pain relieving effects; as well as developing a feeling of euphoria and improved general well-being.
Hypothetically, the release of these endorphins can help to improve mood, anxiety and depression…..although this is yet to be definitively confirmed in scientific research.
SENSE OF PURPOSE – IMPROVED MOOD AND SELF CONFIDENCE
Exercising and competitive sports can provide many people with a purpose in life. Setting fitness goals and working towards them can give a much needed focus….even if its something simple like being able to walk around the block 2 minutes faster than before! And achieving those goals? It can be an awesome feeling!
For many, this sense of purpose and achievement can be a highly rewarding personal experience, which can sometimes be lacking in other every day activities. It has been proposed that this can help to improve mood, as well as self confidence.
As most of us would have experienced, life can often be a bit stressful. Amongst other things, pressure at work, worries at home and financial problems can all be a burden at times; which can affect mental health.
Research studies have shown that regular exercise can provide a much needed distraction from these stresses…..and this diversion can produce a much needed lift in mood during and after exercise.
In part 1, I discussed how exercise can cause body image for some individuals…however, the opposite can also occur! Regularly exercising can help with weight loss, improve muscle tone and often result in an athletic physique. Feeling positive about the way your body looks can provide a big boost in self confidence; which can have some great effects for mental health.
Being part of a sports club or team, or being involved in a regular exercise bunch, can be the only form of social interaction experienced for some individuals. The support provided by team mates and friends, as well as the feeling of being “part of something”, can provide benefits for mental health.
In addition, if sport or exercise is the only social interaction for an individual, it can provide a much needed forum to talk with others about issues….it can be a great way to watch out for each other.
EXERCISE AS A TREATMENT FOR ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION
With all of the positive effects that exercise can have on elevating mood, self confidence and self worth, there is definitely a place for exercise in the treatment of mental health issues. Although exercise alone is not a cure, when it is combined with traditional therapies such as medications and regular counselling, it can help in the effective management of mental health problems.
The research into this area basically shows that there are quite a few hypotheses between exercise and improvement of mood (as I have discussed above), but there is not real consensus which explains the exact mechanism by which this occurs….it is likely that the benefits are a result of a combination of the above theories. Regardless, it has been shown that exercise can help to treat the symptoms of mental health problems. Many doctors and psychologists recommend and include exercise as a part of treatment for mental health issues….again, this is in addition to other treatments.
Of course, the best thing you can do if you are experiencing any mental health issues is seek help. Please don’t suffer in silence….talk to your family and friends, speak to your GP, or seek assistance from support groups. Beyond Blue, RUOk and Lifeline are great places to go for help. The worst thing you can do is suffer in silence…..if you are experiencing any issues, speak up. Help is always available.