How Important Is Exercise For Mental Health?
Gyms and mental health
A big question everyone is asking today is how important is exercise for mental health? And of course, what about gyms and mental health?
Your health is your wealth. That statement is as true today as it has ever been. This maxim applies not just to your physical health, but to your mental health. The time we spend doing things that bring us joy is just as important to our mind as a spinning class or a half hour of HIIT training at the gym can be for our body.
But how important is exercise for mental health? What’s fascinating is that more and more scientific studies are finding that mental health and physical health are inextricably linked.
Links between mental health and physical health
In recent years, society has woken up to the importance of mental health. A really important conversation is now taking place in Ireland and across the world – from families to workplaces, to people young and old, men and women – about the importance of mental health.
Mental health professionals have discovered that there are direct links between improved physical health and improved mental health.
The beginning point for all conversations around mental health is this fundamental fact: it’s okay to not feel okay. Life is stressful and sometimes difficult, anxiety is natural. Healing can only come when we begin to speak about the fears and troubles that sometimes bother us.
Reduce anxiety and stress
We all know that executing a gym training plan can have a profound effect on our bodies. But regular exercise at the gym can give our mental health a massive boost as well. Of course, it should be said that physical fitness should never be the only activity for people experiencing anxiety or depression. Anyone coping with any of these issues should speak with a mental health professional about their feelings.
That said, physical fitness provides real benefits for many people who are coping with anxiety and stress. There’s a simple scientific reason for this.
Exercise endorphins and wellbeing
The endorphins that your brain releases when you are being physically active are the same endorphins the brain releases when you are experiencing happiness. (If you didn’t know, endorphins are powerful chemicals in our brain that make us feel all warm and fuzzy). For this reason, some psychologists prescribe exercise to certain people who might be suffering from mental health issues. This is the enormous power of exercise and fitness. It helps transform our entire body, and that includes the brain. There can be no better feeling in the world than the glow you feel after a gruelling but successful workout. Those endorphins we’ve released are the endorphins of happiness.
Experts say that part of the reason exercise is so good for our brain is that it gives us a minor challenge to overcome, while distracting our brains from the anxiety that could be affecting us. Many people who suffer from anxiety and depression speak of a relentless chain of thoughts that can make it difficult to function normally. When we’re running, swimming, cycling or lifting weights, we give our brains a challenge that blasts through those thoughts.
The mental health benefits of exercise
There are many other benefits to physical fitness, beyond brain chemistry. Working out over a prolonged period can massively boost our confidence and self-esteem. There’s a real satisfaction you get from shaping your body and getting fit. There are also undeniable gains that come from setting goals and then achieving them on the gym floor. Fitness can provide purpose and inspiration for everyone, no matter how athletic you are.
There are many other knock-ons related to physical health that work to benefit our mental health. When we workout regularly, many of us will eat better and sleep longer, two things that will inevitably make us feel better inside ourselves.
Reduce the risk of depression by 26%
What’s perhaps most revolutionary about all of this is that you don’t need to spend six days a week in the gym to avail of the mental health benefits of exercise. Scientists have found just a moderate amount of exercise can have a radical effect on our brains. A study from Harvard University found that fifteen minutes of regular jogging or an hour of regular walking can ‘reduce the risk of depression by 26%’.
When we work out regularly, we feel more energetic. Our memory works better. We feel more like ourselves. It’s difficult to experience mental health issues. But, luckily, society is becoming more empathetic to people suffering from anxiety and depression. Counsellors and therapists should be your first port of call if you’re experiencing these issues. But don’t forget how important your local fitness centre can be in improving your mental health. Speak to the trainers at West Wood Club and tell them what you’re looking for in your fitness plan. West Wood Club prides itself on being ‘fitness of the future’, and mental health and wellness is one extremely important element of that.