The link between exercise and mental health

Over the past few years, research has allowed us to explore the benefits of physical activity and how exercise affects the human body, both physically and mentally. It has become almost universally known that exercise is good for the body and has many physical benefits.

According to NHS website, the physical benefits of exercise include a lower risk of: coronary heart disease and stroke; Type 2 diabetes; bowel cancer; breast cancer in women; early death; osteoarthritis; hip fracture; falls (in the elderly); and dementia.

However, there are also many equally important mental health benefits.

chemical stimulant happiness

So what exactly happens when we exercise?

Why does it lift our mood? Quite simply, when we exercise, the human body activates and releases several chemicals that boost your sense of happiness and well-being – as well as silence the hormones that cause stress and anxiety. Endorphins, serotonin and dopamine neurotransmitters are just some of the main chemicals released during exercise. Endorphins help relieve stress and pain as well as improve well-being. Serotonin is the feeling of happiness, optimism and satisfaction; while dopamine plays an important role in pleasurable reward and motivation.

It has become almost universally known that exercise is good for the body.

Happiness is a submissive state of mind characterized by the feeling of pleasure, satisfaction and general well-being (Veenhoven, 2010). The importance of this aspect is such that countries such as France, Canada and the United Kingdom now include a national index of happiness as an indicator of national progress (Ghent, 2011).

Reduction of anxiety

In a follow-up study in 2021mental disorders have increased among 6-16 year olds from one in nine to one in six since 2017. It is likely that one of the main reasons for this can be attributed to the fact that children have not exercise during the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns.

Indeed, according to DISTURBS:

● 9 in 10 young people said loneliness made their mental health worse during the pandemic
● Youth said they lacked positive coping strategies, such as seeing friends or being outdoors.

The workup for anxiety can be demanding; it can increase a person’s risk of depression and contribute to diabetes and cardiovascular problems. Anxious people tend to exercise less intensely and are more sedentary. However, exercise can help relieve anxiety, and here are the reasons why:

● Exercising can help distract you from the exact thing you’re worried about
● Moving the human body decreases muscle tension, thereby reducing the body’s contribution to feelings of anxiety
● An increase in heart rate changes brain chemistry, releasing all the happy chemicals and hormones
● Exercising regularly builds up resources that build resilience in the face of stormy emotions.

Sports scientists conducted a meta-analysis to determine if anxiety was specifically reduced by exercise. The results provided clinicians with strong evidence to recommend exercise training to patients as a way to reduce anxiety (Herring et al, 2010).

Physical fitness and exercise can also help young people develop important skills such as conflict resolution, cooperation with peers and social skills.

Exercise can be daunting for some; However, not everyone needs to play a 90-minute football game or complete a marathon to reap the rewards. In fact, the NHS states that 150 minutes of moderate exercise (75 minutes of vigorous exercise) per week is the guideline. It is important to spread the exercise out over the whole week and reduce the time spent sitting and still.

While children may well get their exercise quota at school, both through play and at sports clubs, busy teachers and staff who can juggle work and home life – or for the less athletes – there are simple ways to make exercise more accessible:

● Park further from the shops
● Take the stairs instead of the elevator
● Take a bike ride or a walk with the family
● Find a training partner
● Take breaks from your computer and walk down the hall.

Stress reduction

Exercise can also contribute to mental well-being by reducing the stress that occurs. Any form of exercise can act as a stress reliever. Exercise will reduce the negative effects of stress while mimicking the effects of stress – like your fight or flight response, which is an example of one of the stresses your body faces when exercising. This helps your body and its systems train to overcome the effects of stress.

Exercise can also be thought of as a form of meditation: while you are exercising, you need to think about how your body moves and how you are going to move your body.

It keeps the mind at bay and helps you forget about all the stressful things that are going on. And, as mentioned, exercise will also improve your mood, releasing endorphins and hormones to make you feel happy and relaxed.

Physical activity improves your body’s ability to use oxygen and also improves blood circulation. both of these changes have a direct effect on your brain. Some people notice an improvement in their mood immediately after an activity, and those feelings won’t stop there. Generally, they will become cumulative over time. This means that the more you exercise, the more these feelings will intensify as you remain engaged in routine activity.

For children in particular, exercise can boost self-esteem and reduce depression and anxiety, as well as symptoms of attention deficit disorder, notes the Faculty of Sports and Exercise Medicine in the UK.

Improved social skills

There are also indirect benefits for mental wellbeing that people may not be aware of, such as the increased social skills people of all ages can gain from being active. For children, this can provide a way to connect with peers and a common interest, especially helpful, perhaps, when they join a new school.

Physical fitness and exercise can also help young people develop important skills such as conflict resolution, cooperation with peers, and social skills, such as leadership, and fine motor skills. For the more reluctant, team sports may be the only way to entice some people to exercise, as they may only want to exercise if they can be on the same team as ‘a friend.

Team sports also foster feelings of camaraderie, like sticking together if you lose or celebrating when you win. The feeling of belonging to a group or a team, to a community, can help the child – or the adult – to reintegrate – and its benefits cannot be overestimated.

Veenhoven, R. (2010). How universal is happiness? (Chapter 11). In E. Diener, JF Helliwell, and D. Kahneman (Eds.), International Differences in Well-Being (pp. 328–350). New York: Oxford University Press.

Gand, A. (2011). The happiness effect. Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 89(4), 246–247.

Herring, MP, O’Connor, PJ, & Dishman, RK (2010). The effect of exercise training on anxiety symptoms in patients: a systematic review. Archives of Internal Medicine, 170(4), 321-331.

A note of caution

Obviously, while the benefits of physical activity cannot be overstated, it is important to know and manage some of the possible negative effects that could arise from exercise in certain situations. A well-known example is the link between exercise and eating disorders or conditions such as body dysmorphia. It is in the latter case that a child or adult can become overly obsessed with how they look and what they think they should be, which can lead to excessive exercise and therefore cause more harm than good. good. Although it can affect people of any age, male or female, it is more prevalent among teenagers and young people, especially with all the current pressures from society and social media to look a certain way.

You might also like: Mental health – the effects of sport and boarding school life

About Shirley A. Tamayo

Check Also

Ease Seasonal Affective Disorder with an Exercise Routine

Contents As the days get shorter and darker, people may feel affected by Seasonal Affective …