Your mental health and physical health don’t exist in separate bubbles. In reality, they exist more like a Venn Diagram.
For example, you might exercise for your physical health. Yet, this, inevitably, spills over and improves your mental health as well (hello, feel-good endorphins!).
Like personal relationships, your mental and physical health is a two-way street. Exercise impacts your mood, and your mood impacts whether or not you take care of your physical body.
In other words, movement is just as much a mental health strategy as it is a physical health strategy. So, let’s dive into this topic a little bit more. Why and how does moving your body elevate your mental state?
The World Health Organization (WHO) states that there was a 13% rise in mental health issues and substance abuse disorders from 2007 to 2017. In fact, about 20% of the world’s population struggles with their mental health.
And that’s only what is reported. These numbers don’t take into account the many silent mental health sufferers worldwide.
If anything, we need movement now more than ever. Along with these statistics, it’s undeniable that sedentary jobs and general behavior are on the rise. As technology takes over more labor-intensive jobs, we spend more time sitting than ever before.
This is problematic, especially when it comes to our mental health (more on this in a second).
The human body needs movement to function optimally. Unfortunately, our physical bodies have not quite evolved at the same pace as technology. This means we have to be intentional when it comes to incorporating movement into our everyday lives.
You’ve probably heard the same ol’ song and dance before. Regular exercise significantly decreases your risk of depression and anxiety, as well as reduces stress, improves mood, and enhances cognitive functioning.
Okay, but how?
Let’s examine this in a little more detail.
There’s a ton of research that supports movement increasing the size of the brain. In fact, when you move, you stimulate the brain-derived neurotrophic factor. This actually encourages the growth of new neural connections, and enhances the health of already existing neurons.
In other words, when you move your body, your brain kicks into gear, creating new connections and boosting the health of what is already there.
Cognitive decline tends to naturally occur as we age. However, it doesn’t necessarily have to. There’s plenty of stories where individuals have maintained their cognitive “sharpness” until their last days.
In fact, studies demonstrate how exercising just twice a week can decrease memory loss and improve overall brain functionality. It’s theorized that exercise does this by increasing blood circulation to the brain, which offers up more oxygen and nutrients helping your brain do what it does best.
If you’re not getting enough sleep, you’re likely familiar with the dreaded brain fog, fatigue, and more that haunts you as you attempt to go about your day. Sleep is essential for the restoration and repair of the body’s tissues and systems.
A lack of sleep is actually associated with increased anxiety and depression.
Experts have shown numerous times how even just 30 minutes of physical activity a day can improve a person’s sleep that night. This helps them obtain that restorative sleep that the body desperately needs. Thus, exercise might be what you need to counterbalance any increased anxiety, stress, or low moods as of late.
Typically, you leave an exercise session feeling empowered and elevated. This, in itself, is a sure-fire sign that exercise and mental health are intricately linked.
But what’s going on beneath the surface?
When you exercise, your body releases endorphins. These endorphins reduce your pain perception by interacting with certain receptors in the brain. In addition to this, endorphins elevate your mood. This is the reason you feel so good after an exercise session.
For example, endorphins are the chemicals individuals are referring to when they talk about the “runner’s high.”
These changes also help combat stress by reducing the stress hormone, cortisol, in the body.
Research further shows that exercise, including team sports, drastically reduces an adolescent’s risk of depression. In other words, exercise is powerful when it comes to elevating your mood and your mind.
Related Article: Mental Health – Meaning, Why It’s Important & How To Improve It
Despite all the recommendations out there in terms of the “right” type of exercise, the best physical activity is one that works for you and your life.
And ideally, it’s something you like to participate in on a regular basis.
For different people, this can mean different activities. The ultimate goal is to find something that you can do a couple or a few times a week.
Some examples include:
And a quick note here. You might need to try a few activities before you find one that clicks. Just because you don’t like yoga, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t many other activities you can try.
While you might not be motivated, a little movement might be just what the doctor ordered. Motivation aside, there are countless reasons to move your body! Joining workout classes can even foster a sense of community and belonging. This could open a whole new world to you and your life!
Pencil a little more movement into your calendar. You likely won’t regret it. And you’ll probably feel pretty good afterward! Give your body and your mental health exactly what they need. Your body was made for it.
As Nelson Mandela stated,
Exercise is the key to not only physical health but to peace of mind.