How Exercise Can Improve Your Mental Health
It is a worrying thought that the percentage of young adults experiencing mental health issues has risen dramatically over the last ten years.
The Truth About Mental Health
While struggles with mental health affect people across all age spectrums, the increase in major depression and serious psychological distress has expanded profusely among the younger generation in a way that was not prevalent ten years ago, suggesting that this is a generational shift issue, not an increase in mental health problems overall.
Experts believe this is partly because of the increased use of electronics and digital media, which may affect younger minds more than older ones as they are still growing and developing. Too much screen time can also interfere with sleep, which can in itself trigger mood disorders; face to face interaction is on the decline while digital interaction is on the rise.
Personal Experience - You & Your Mental Health
As someone who has struggled with severe mental health issues from the age of 13 which spanned well into adulthood, I can recall that my situation at the time was not “the norm.” Regular trips to the psychiatric sector baffled my peers. Back then, very few people owned a phone and if they were caught with it in school, it was confiscated. Social media sites barely existed; people interacted in the traditional way – face to face.
Years ago, it was common for kids to be out in the evenings and weekends, playing sports with their friends and inevitably getting plenty of exercise in the process. Now, it is completely normal to sit inside playing computer games or browse on social media.
With this cultural change over the last decade has come a rise in mental health problems. The situation I had found myself in all those years ago which had been so unusual appears to have escalated into a more common theme among our society – and I find this extremely troubling and worrisome; because with the rise of mental health comes to the rise of “solutions.”
Each Experience is Different
Going back to my own personal experience, solutions from the authority sector at the time were medications to stabilize my moods or provide me with weekly trips to the psychiatrist. While some may find this to help them immensely, the path to mental health stabilization and coping is extremely personal.
But for me? I personally found that these were not the best for me. It would be a few years later that I discovered for myself a technique that was so simple and effective, yet had not been highlighted to me just how potent it could be in improving mental health – exercise.
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Exercise Makes a HUGE Impact
I want to stress that exercise truly does have an overwhelmingly positive impact on mental health and this is not just from numerous studies that suggest so, but from my own personal experience. No matter what age you are, exercising regularly can be one of your mightiest weapons in tackling a range of mental health problems, from depression to anxiety, to PTSD, to stress.
A study done by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health discovered that walking for an hour or even running for 15 minutes a day reduced the risk of major depression by 26%. Exercising on a regular basis can improve the quality of your sleep, provide you with a sharper memory, give you more energy throughout the day and boost your mood.
How Does Exercise Affect Mental Health?
Exercise is a powerful releaser of endorphins, which helps you feel good and motivates your spirit. It promotes changes in the brain, reduces inflammation and helps with calm and well-being. In addition to the positive mental health benefits, it also improves our physical health and appearance.
Low self-esteem can often be the result of poor body image; exercise, both in the form of cardio and strength-training, can improve our appearance and help us feel more confident about how we look. It is also wonderful in keeping us fit and healthy so that struggles with physical health are reduced. In short, using the body to improve another area of the body appears to be the key.
The human body has a remarkable ability to heal itself. We have not been programmed to sit indoors all day and night, living our lives through the virtual world. We are real, tangible creatures, no different to any other creature on earth, and the more we lose touch with the physical world and with nature, the more miserable our minds become. Mental health problems are the mind’s way of saying something isn’t right – and whatever the issue is, it cannot be fixed with endless drugs, which simply numb the issue, not resolve it.
Going back to the effect of the digital world on our mental state, the bright side is that, as with most things, we can use technology to our advantage. It doesn’t have to control us; it can be our best friend or our worst enemy. Fitness apps can help us track our progress; Youtube provides some excellent personal trainers and plenty of videos for people to watch in their own homes; endless articles exist about how to improve your diet plan.
When it comes to digital media, there needs to be a conscious decision and effort made by us to use the digital world to benefit us, not control us.
Mental health issues can exist for a variety of reasons – stress from work, bereavement or separation, PTSD, unhappiness in relationships and a number of other circumstances we face in life that do not coincide with the sort of happiness that we want and deserve. But whatever the cause of our unhappiness, exercise can have a profound effect on us. It may not be able to heal mental health problems entirely, but it can certainly improve them.
The recommended guidelines per week are 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week. This doesn’t mean you have to set aside 45 minutes a day in the gym; if you are quite active throughout the day, it’s likely you’ll get quite a lot of this into your day naturally.
If, however, you spend much of your day sitting then scheduling time throughout the day will be very helpful. Taking a long walk in the evening or jogging around the block is a great way to get exercise into your daily routine. As someone who sits a lot due to my own lifestyle, my personal favorite is to pop on a Youtube video or tv show, grab my weights and follow my own favorite personal trainer for thirty to forty-five minutes; or blast some music and enjoy my own ‘dance’ routine.
Exercise doesn’t have to be boring – you can constantly change it up, be flexible with it and try new things.
For the sake of our mental well-being, especially the well-being of our younger people, it’s essential that we work together to vastly improve this issue, both in terms of making an individual conscious effort to help ourselves and for our authorities to take greater responsibility for us as a whole.