We often hear our trainers talk to us about the importance of exercise. We rave about the benefits of being stronger and fitter and how it can impact your life. Less often we talk about the impact of exercise on mental health. In today’s day and age, I still don’t think we put enough emphasis on our mental health.
Short-Term, the link between exercise and mood has proven to be strong. A mood enhancement effect can be seen within five minutes of moderate exercise.
Long-Term, research shows that exercise can help attenuate long term depression. James Blumenthal, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at Duke University says, “There’s good epidemiological data to suggest that active people are less depressed than inactive people. And people who were active and stopped tend to be more depressed than those who maintain or initiate an exercise program.”
Not only did the findings of his experimental studies find that exercise is important for treating anxiety and depression, but also in preventing relapse.
“Many people skip the workout at the very time it has the greatest payoff; preventing you from noticing just how much better you feel when you exercise,” he says. “Failing to exercise when you feel bad is like explicitly not taking an aspirin when your head hurts. That’s the time you get the payoff.”
Thirty minutes of exercise at moderate intensity, like brisk walking for 3 days a week, will produce these health benefits. Moreover, these 30 minutes need not be continuous; three 10-minute walks are believed to be as equally useful as one 30-minute walk. – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1470658/
Now you may be thinking this is the same age old article that exercise improves mental illness. However, it has also proven to elevate low self esteem and social withdrawal. A Study done by Neuropsychiatric Disease. And Treatment concluded that “Both moderate- and vigorous-intensity Physical Activities (PAs) are important for physical and mental health. In this regard, both the scientific community and lay people claim that regular PA impacts positively on self-esteem (SE). SE can be defined as a person’s evaluative judgment of the self. SE is important for a successful and satisfying life and constitutes a fundamental aspect of psychological well-being. Sonstroem and Morgan’s framework of PA and SE suggests that exercising is associated with global SE through perceptions of self-efficacy, physical competence, and physical acceptance.” – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5068479/
To put this into real-life context, I coach a lot of young girls who play sport, but this one girl, in particular, was twelve, and about 6 foot! Now too mature athletes this is a dream, but to a shy twelve-year-old who is taller then almost everyone in her school, it’s horrible. She struggled with self-confidence, negative body image, and to make rep teams. After working together for one term, she was outperforming her team in club and she got rep attention! Now, this could have been because she got stronger and a little faster, but I would argue that it was because of the mental progress that she grew the confidence to perform when it counted. Perhaps my proudest moment wasn’t when she raved that she could hold her bully defenders with ease and not get pushed around. It wasn’t even when she said she was feeling super fit. My proudest moment was when she told me she had the courage to ask her coach to play GA when she had been forced into the GS position because of her height. It was then that I took a step back to look at the new girl in front of me. On the surface, she was glowing. She no longer slouched, she was still shy but she owned her space. She was more confident in her dealings with her friends and how she handled comments by her peers.
Personally I use exercise as a stress release. After a stressful day, it’s freeing to go for a run. It’s almost magical how my problems have answers, my anxiety diminishes and I feel on top of the world. Bringing that feeling to others is part of the reason I love my job so much. After seeing a client achieve what they want, finish a session they didn’t think they could, it’s like giving them a gift they didn’t know they needed. Exercise isn’t about competition; it is whatever you make of it. It can be fun, it can be hard, it can be easy, it can be long, it can be short. And while we vary this depending on your fitness goals, there is no variation to how it benefits your mental health.