How often do you take a moment to check in with your mental health? For many, this aspect of life can be overshadowed or it can conjure up feelings ranging from confusion to contentment. As a result, it is important to acknowledge that even good mental health can include feelings of sadness, anxiety, and anger. The key is knowing how to manage these feelings in a healthy way and how to find a balance in which you can still enjoy life. That being said, in the midst of a global health crisis it is understandable for an individual’s mental health to be significantly impacted. It is common to feel nervous for the future, to feel isolated, and to feel higher levels of stress than usual. Fortunately, the most commonly made New Year’s resolution is also known to be a major remedy in improvement of mental health. The benefits of exercising regularly impact a wide array of areas in the human body so it comes as no surprise that it also results in stronger emotional well being.
How Exercise Impacts Mental Health
Exercise has been proven to minimize daily stress, improve quality and duration of sleep, increase feelings of confidence and improve performance in the classroom at all age levels.* These benefits have a strong correlation with mental health and only make up a fraction of the overall advantages associated with consistent physical activity. You may be wondering what exact mechanisms relate exercise to improved mental health. The answer can be divided into what occurs neurologically, physically and socially from physical activity. For example, neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin and noradrenaline are released during exercise and play a vital role in increasing mood. These chemicals can also stimulate the brain to improve attention span and memory which is useful in conducting daily activities.** On the other hand, regular exercise can result in physical changes to the body like weight loss and muscular gain. These changes along with a stronger mood can result in greater confidence and a desire to recreate the feeling from exercising. In addition, the amount of social interactions we have can increase through participating in physical activity. This can happen from joining sports, group fitness classes, or simply working out with friends. An increase in social interactions generally results in individuals feeling happier and well supported. With this underlying knowledge of mental health and exercise you can start to make changes and incorporate physical activity into your daily life.
How to Reap the Benefits of Exercise
For individuals starting their fitness journey the big question is typically: how much exercise is needed to produce effective results? The answers vary depending on the professional asked, the article read, or the study conducted. Taking this into account, the generally accepted response is to do what feels best for you and your body. This could mean going for runs every morning, going to the gym or following along with YouTube workouts. The current state of the virus may make it difficult to visit the gym but with outdoor and at home workouts becoming more prevalent, coaching guides are more accessible than ever. The summer weather can make outdoor workouts increasingly appealing, however extra precautions must be taken to protect our skin from the sun.
With that in mind, check out our list of Sun Safety Apparel Suppliers and our Prevention page. Our website also contains other Mental Health Resources and recordings of Mental Health Webinars. In conclusion, take the time to check in with yourself and utilize the benefits of exercise but always make sure you’re protecting yourself from harmful UV rays as you do so.
* For further detail regarding mental health and exercise see “Psychology Works Fact Sheet: Physical Activity, Mental Health and Motivation” by the Canadian Psychological Association, https://cpa.ca/docs/File/Publications/FactSheets/PsychologyWorksFactSheet_PhysicalActivity_MentalHealth_Motivation.pdf
** For more information on the brain effects of exercise watch “The brain-changing benefits of exercise | Wendy Suzuki,” https://youtu.be/BHY0FxzoKZE