Mental Health – Benefits Of Exercise

In the past week where we saw thousands across the country partake in the annual Darkness into Light for Pieta House, it struck me as to how important our mental health is.

Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood. – www.mentalhealth.gov

We seem to have a massive problem in Ireland with mental health. Maybe its our inability to cope or our reserved nature to not show emotion or talk about our problems that ranks us so high in self harm and suicide statistics, but I urge you to talk to someone if you feel low or down or just not 100% yourself. It could be a chat with someone you know or even don’t know but talk to someone, even me! I will always listen and sometimes that’s all someone needs.

What else can I do? – Exercise always helps!

Many people hit the gym or pound the pavement to improve cardiovascular health, build muscle, and of course, get the dream body, but working out has mental benefits, too. For the past decade or so, scientists have pondered how exercise can help our well being.

Regardless of age or fitness level, studies show that making time for exercise provides some serious mental benefits. Here’s a list of unexpected ways that working out can benefit mental health, relationships, and lead to a healthier and happier life overall.

  1. Reduce stress. Tough day at the office or a tough day in store? Take a walk or head to the gym for a quick workout. One of the most common mental benefits of exercise is stress relief. Working up a sweat can help manage physical and mental stress. Exercise also increases concentrations of norepinephrine,(I have mentioned this in a previous blog) a chemical that can moderate the brain’s response to stress. So go ahead and get sweaty — working out can reduce stress and boost the body’s ability to deal with existing mental tension. Win-win!
  2. Boost happy chemicals. Slogging through a few miles on the treadmill can be tough, but it’s worth the effort! Exercise releases endorphins, which create feelings of happiness and euphoria. Studies have shown that exercise can even alleviate symptoms among the clinically depressed. For this reason, doctors recommend that people suffering from even mild depression or anxiety (or those who are just feeling blue) get in plenty of gym time. In some cases, exercise can be just as effective as antidepressant pills in treating depression. Don’t worry if you’re not exactly the gym type — getting a happy buzz from working out for just 30 minutes a few times a week can instantly boost overall mood.
  3. Improve self-confidence. Hop on the treadmill to look and feel like a million dollars. On a very basic level, physical fitness can boost self-esteem and improve your self-image. Regardless of weight, size, gender, or age, exercise can quickly elevate your perception of your attractiveness, thus improving self confidence.
  4. Enjoy the great outdoors. For an extra boost of self-love and self confidence, take that workout outside. Exercising in the great outdoors can increase self-esteem even more. Find an outdoor workout that fits your style, whether it’s hiking, biking, kayaking or just taking a jog in the park. Plus, all that wonderful fresh air  can lessen the likelihood of experiencing any depressive symptoms. Why book a spa day when a little fresh air and sunshine (3 days a year!) can work wonders for self-confidence and happiness?
  5. Prevent cognitive decline. It’s unpleasant, but it’s true — as we get older, our brains get a little… hmm….hazy. As aging and degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s kill off brain cells, the oul noggin actually shrinks, losing many important brain functions in the process. While exercise and a healthy diet can’t “cure” Alzheimer’s, they can help shore up the brain against cognitive decline that begins after age 45 according to research! Working out, at any age, but especially between age 25 and 45, boosts the chemicals in the brain that support and prevent degeneration of the important part of the brain used for memory and learning.
  6. Help with anxiety. Which is better at relieving anxiety — a warm bubble bath or a 30-minute jog? You might be surprised at the answer. The warm and fuzzy chemicals that are released during and after exercise can help people with anxiety disorders calm down. Studies show that heading out for a workout for some moderate-to-high intensity aerobic exercise can reduce anxiety. And you thought intervals were just a good way to burn calories!
  7. Boost your brainpower. Those lab rats might be smarter than we think. Various studies have shown that cardiovascular exercise can create new brain cells (aka neurogenesis) and improve overall brain performance. Studies suggest that a tough workout increases levels of a brain-derived protein in the body, believed to help with decision making, improved thought process, memory and learning. Now for ya!
  8. Inspire others around you. Whether it’s a game of football, a group class at the gym, or just a run with a friend, exercise rarely happens in a bubble. And that’s good news for all of us. Studies show that most people perform better on aerobic tests when paired up with a workout buddy. Put it down to inspiration or good old-fashioned competition, nobody wants to let the other person down. Even fitness beginners can inspire each other to push harder during a sweat session, so find a workout buddy and get moving!

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Working out can have positive effects far beyond the gym (and beach season!). Gaining self-confidence, getting out of a rut, and even thinking smarter are some of the many motivations to take time for exercise on a regular basis.

So grab your buddy and hit the gym, it can do wonders for your mental health and well-being, and theirs too. Because we never really know what goes on in anybody’s mind. They may seem fine on the outside but deep down there may be issues that we will never know about until its often too late. I’m sure at some stage we have all been affected in some way by mental health. Often at times a little “Hello” or “How are you today” or a smile can lift someones spirits that may feel low.

Thanks for reading,

Dermot.

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