Mental Health and Exercise: How can moving more help?

In the COVID-19 era, we are all sitting down more. Gyms are shut and we are only allowed to exercise for 2 hours a day. Therefore as a society, we are at a greater risk of ‘metabolic syndrome’ and obesity. However, we are also a greater risk of developing mental health issues. For some people, this will be the first time they have experienced mental health issues and are reaching out for help. As with many issues, exercise has been found to be a very effective treatment for mental health. In this blog, we are going to explore how exercise can help with Mental health, and discuss just what exercise you should be doing.

How does exercise help mental health?

Exercise releases chemicals such as endorphins and serotonin that improve your mood. Exercise also helps regulate the same brain pathways that medications target. Mindful exercise such as yoga, may also be a way to help regulate our sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) back to parasympathetic (rest and digest). This allows our body to regulate our stress hormones, and reduce inflammation – a key predictor of depression/anxiety. It can also get you out in the world, help to reduce any feelings of loneliness and isolation, and put you in touch with other people.

Overall, exercise and physical activity can improve mental health by:

  • Reducing anxiety and depression
  • Improving mood
  • Increasing energy
  • Improving self-esteem and social withdrawal
  • Giving you a sense of accomplishment as your fitness improves and you start achieving your goals.

What type of exercise should you be doing?

Different types of exercise may elicit different responses, both physically and mentally. While no one type is better than the other, it is important to have a balanced exercise diet! Doing a mix of resistance training and aerobic training is always recommended. There is really no best exercise for mental health, as aerobic exercises, including jogging, swimming, cycling, walking, gardening, and dancing, have been proved to reduce anxiety and depression. A recent study suggests that exercising for 30-60 minutes, 3-5 times per week is associated with better mental health. Activities such as team sports, cycling, aerobic exercise, and weight training have the highest associations with good mental health.

When it comes to exercising for mental health, the real key is to find something that you enjoy doing. If you enjoy doing something, you are more likely to continue to do it. You should aim to complete about 150mins of physical activity in a week, which equates to about 20 mins a day. This does not have to be done in one block and can be done in 10 min intervals.

If you need help getting started or you’d like to get some professional advice specific to you, please contact us in the clinic. Our Accredited Exercise Physiologist is trained to help assist you in developing the right plan for you and your individual needs. You can find our contact details HERE

*This is advice around exercise only and does replace the need for speaking to a mental health expert. If you feel like you need help please contact beyond blue at 1300 224 636 or visit beyondblue.org.au

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