Exercise and mental health

18th May 2020

Healthy body, healthy mind; we’ve all heard that phrase before, but is there any truth to it?

There are many reasons to exercise; it can extend lifespan, improve your physique and internal health, improve your libido and reduce the risk of getting chronic diseases.

But one of the most crucial factors is to do with how exercise helps with our mental health. Exercising is proven to improve our mood, reduce stress, reduce anxiety and help people take a more positive outlook on life.

Starting the day with exercise can help you feel more energetic and improve your mindset for the rest of the day. It can lead to a better quality sleep, which in turn helps you feel better the next day, meaning you are more productive and so on.

Those who exercise experience around 43% fewer days of poor mental health

A large observational study published by the Lancet looked at the link between physical exercise and mental health in over 1 million individuals over a 5 year period. It showed that those who exercised experienced around 43% fewer days of poor mental health than those who didn’t. The link was the strongest for those who exercised between 30-60 minutes three to five times per week. Engaging with team sports and cycling was associated with the lowest mental health burden.

Exercise causes your brain to release chemicals called endorphins that trigger positive feelings that some people describe as ‘euphoric’. This euphoric feeling is frequently experienced after running, and is known as ‘runners high’.

Exercise is a natural painkiller

Endorphins are sometimes called endogenous opiods and therefore may also act as analgesics. In other words, exercising is a natural painkiller!

As a doctor, when a patient comes in feeling low and has symptoms of mild to moderate depression or anxiety, one of the first treatments we prescribe is exercise (combined with self help and talking therapies). It is such a powerful tool and can have huge benefits in helping how people feel.

What we do physically can have a profound impact on our emotions. Don’t believe me? Try this, think of a happy memory and smile for 10 seconds and you’ll notice your mood changing.

If you are struggling with mental health or you frequently feel low, you don’t need to go through it on your own. If it is caused by stress in the workplace, speak to your employer, you’ll be surprised how much people are willing to listen and help.

Please note, if you experience depression or feel low, visit your GP in the first instance to rule out other causes of low mood.

Post by Dr Haleema (Co-founder)

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