The Role of Physical Activity and Fitness in assisting Mental Health*

Tuesday, 23 May 2017, By Alicia Jovcevski

The Role of Physical Activity and Fitness in assisting Mental Health

The purpose of this article is to make people aware of the positive impact that physical activity can have on people who struggle with headspace.

Everyone at some stage experiences a feeling of anxiousness or depression at times when adverse life events occur; losing a loved one, losing a job, going through a divorce or other difficult situations can lead a person to feel sad, lonely, nervous or anxious and these feelings are normal reactions to life's challenges. 

However, some people experience these feelings daily for no specific reason and find it very difficult, almost impossible to carry on with their everyday lives. 
These people may have an anxiety disorder, depression or even both. 
It is not uncommon for someone with an anxiety disorder to also suffer from depression and vice-versa but there is no one cause for depression.

The good news is that exercise (and a healthy lifestyle) can help to alleviate and manage symptoms of both. The most common treatments for depression are psychotherapy or medication and Psychologists have found that exercise is a third successful alternative.

Depression is a condition in which a person feels sad, discouraged, unmotivated, hopeless or disinterested in life in general. It is a treatable illness that affects the way a person feels, thinks, behaves and functions. Depression can run in families and some people can be at greater risk due to family history.

An anxiety disorder is when worry or fear get out of control and start interfering with or stops you from living your everyday life. 
The mind often races stopping you from concentrating, you cannot concentrate due to feelings of fear or nervousness, constant sleepless nights and sometimes it can even cause panic/panic attacks. Physical signs include heart pounding, a tight chest, fast/shallow breathing, difficulty swallowing, a lump in the throat etc.

Although evidence is still inconclusive, studies have shown that exercise (and a healthy lifestyle) can be moderately helpful for mild to moderate depression in adults. Exercise should be considered as a key lifestyle change that can be used in addition to a person's other treatments for depression. Here's why:

While studies are still unsure on the relationship between mental health and physical activity, The International Journal of Exercise Science have now extended findings that exercise is a powerful depression fighter for several reasons. 
Predominantly, it promotes changes in the brain with regards to the activity of certain chemicals such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine which play a role in depression, it produces a positive effect on neural growth, reduces inflammation, and stimulates new activity patterns that promote feelings of calm and well-being. It also releases endorphins, the powerful chemicals in your brain that energize your mood and make you feel good and it found that maintaining an exercise routine can prevent you from relapsing. 

Exercise can also serve as a distraction, allowing you to find some quiet time to break out of the cycle of negative thoughts that feed depression. Exercise works as an "active meditation" where it frees the mind of any clutter & can usually bring clarity on anything plaguing you and helps to make difficult decisions seems less overwhelming.
Some people simply cannot meditate so exercise is their form of "me time" to focus on themselves and nothing else for that short period but to expel that negative energy or simply just for the enjoyment of releasing those happy hormones.

Likewise, exercise is a natural and effective anti-anxiety treatment as well. It relieves tension and stress, increases physical and mental energy, and enhances well-being through the release of endorphins.

Achieving better physical health and experiencing a better fitness level along with the visual benefits of exercise makes you feel good and increases self-confidence & creates positive self-image.
Exercise is one of the best ways to improve your body image and self-esteem as it gives you more energy and helps to tone your body and strengthen your muscles.

When people see changes in their body composition they feel more confident about their body and are generally happier and more confident within themselves which means negative self-talk decreases.
It doesn't need to be all about physical appearance either!
When someone becomes stronger, can run a little longer or can lift a little more weight they feel accomplished and effective.

Being surrounded with like-minded people in a supportive and encouraging environment helps to alleviate feelings of loneliness as well. At Vision, we are small friendly studios, where everyone knows your name!
We are a community of like-minded people who all want to achieve better health and wellness and it's fairly safe to say that you will make some new found friendships along the way while exercising! It can also inspire you to try things you never thought possible.

Training gives you time to reflect and provides a sense of achievement.

When you have clarity during exercise it allows you to reflect on your journey of where you were when you began & how far you have come, not only in your health & fitness but as a person. When you achieve something you never thought possible this reinforces a psychological message that you are a winner and you can achieve and accomplish your goals. This will ignite courage, confidence, motivation & commitment for your future in any aspect of your life.  Achieving brings a sense of joy, fulfilment and self-worth.

We are all connected with mind, body and spirit and when all 3 are in complete synergy with each other, this is where we enjoy life and everything it has to offer. The whole feeling of exercise and how it makes you feel physiologically, emotionally and spiritually can dramatically change your life.

Have you ever trained for a fun run or fitness event?
Training for & completing a challenge event prepares us and actually helps us hand in hand for the for the marathon we call "life".

The brain is now viewed as a "central governor" and is vastly more powerful than previously known. Helping your mind to become stronger through focus, training & exercise can be applied in the same fashion with everyday life. With perseverance & courage comes great reward & achievement.

During training for an event, this process subconsciously trains your brain to practice the use of POSITIVE reinforcement to keep pushing on and promotes self-belief.

Positive words provide the power to transform the quality of your life. Negative self-talk can stand in the way of your best performance - this applies to any aspect of your life.  Your mental state & emotions are directly linked to your physical performance.

There is no one specific exercise that is deemed "the best" for mental health but as a general rule anything that is going to challenge you will change you as long it provides you with enjoyment. Walking and jogging/running are said to be the most frequent forms of exercise that have been researched, but all modes of exercise examined, anaerobic as well as aerobic, were effective in lessening depression at least to some degree.

When describing mental benefits, Exercise Physiologist Dr Simon Rosenbaum at the University of New South Wales explains that it goes a lot further than a reduction in levels of anxiety and symptoms of depression, there's also a reward in terms of self-esteem. "When people have a mental health condition they are demotivated. Exercise can add structure and routine to someone's day which they may not have otherwise had".

A vigorous lifestyle is the stairway to a long, vibrant, energetic and happy life.
You can create stillness of the mind during exercise where your body, mind and spirit are in synchronicity. 

As research becomes more advanced it is becoming more evident that good cardiovascular fitness seems to be associated with decreased symptoms of burnout and depression in highly stressed people, subsequently improving the capacity to cope with stress. 

Regular exercise can play an important part in the treatment of stress-related mental health symptoms. Enjoying a physically active lifestyle to prevent as well as treat stress-related mental health is a worthwhile endeavour. Your brain is the most important organ with respect to your overall health and well-being so it seems equally important to enhance your brain health too.

Alicia Jovcevski
Studio Owner


*Disclaimer: Individual results vary based on agreed goals. Click here for details.

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