Exercise for Mental Health
It’s mental health awareness week, so it’s the perfect time to think about the psychological effects that exercise can have on us and our mood.
We are all quite often focused on the way that working out will make us look, but we aren’t always so clued up on the mental and emotional benefits of regular exercise.
Approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year.
I know that I’m definitely someone who has experienced periods of anxiety in my life. The pursuit of perfection and the struggle of not having complete control of a given situation can have a really strong effect on my mental state.
I work out regularly (usually I’m in training for a competition, but even when I’m not I enjoy a variety of workouts). But sometimes, usually when I’m not feeling so great, I fight the workout. Sit at home knowing I’ve got to go, or I should go, and that I’ll feel better for it, but finding a million and one other things to do first. And what happens once I’ve finally gone and done the workout? Of course I feel loads better and wish that I’d done it hours beforehand.
This is because exercise increases blood flow to the brain, releasing endorphins – the body’s very own natural antidepressant. These endorphins act as natural painkillers, and can also improve the ability to sleep. Exercise also enhances self-esteem, and helps to build confidence.
Some of the best types of workouts to do when you’re suffering from low mood or anxiety
High energy activities such as HIT classes or martial arts – studies have shown a that these types of workouts can release a very high concentrate of endorphins, meaning that you don’t always need to work out for hours and hours to feel the benefits
Outdoor workouts – getting outside can mean an added boost of vitamin D, which is good for energy levels as these often slump when we are suffering from low mood and depression
Working out with a friend – connecting with other people is good anyway, but having someone working out with you to offer you moral support can really help
Yoga or Pilates – the focus on the breathing and following instructions can have a very calming affect
Walking – sometimes, when suffering a period of depression or low mood, we simply don’t have the energy to hit the gym or go for a run. That’s OK, a brisk walk can be just as effective
Along with working out, it’s important to practise some self care during difficult times. We can do this by eating well, getting enough rest, talking to and connecting with our friends and families, writing in a journal, meditating, and spending a bit less time looking at social media and making comparisons.
Remember though, it’s important not to overdo it. Too much exercise can cause overtraining syndrome, which can lead us to feel depressed and anxious. Try to maintain a healthy life / workout balance.