The Link Between Exercise and our Mental Well-being

When we think of health, the first thing that springs to mind is physical health, such as going to the gym or going for a run, we never really associate it with mental health. However, our mental health is just as important as our physical health as it affects how we think, feel, and act. It also harbours how we manage our emotions, stress levels, anxiety, depression, sleep patterns and how we socialise with others in our day to day lives. We don’t typically associate our physical health with our mental health as the link between the two is not easy to recognise, so here are some examples of how the two are intertwined. Furthermore, if you would to find out more on each topic, the link at the top of each section will take you to one of our guides with more in-depth information available.

Stress

Exercise is key for your head and not just your heart as it has been scientifically proven to lower stress levels. As we exercise, our heart rate increases, in turn, this generates an increased production of a hormone from our adrenal glands known as Norepinephrine which plays a significant part in our stress levels. Low Norepinephrine levels are usually linked to high stress, lethargy and low a concentration, therefore, it is clinically advised that we maintain adequate Norepinephrine levels through exercise in order to combat stress-related illnesses such as Asthma, Heart Disease, Obesity and Diabetes.

You can also try deep breathing exercises to reduce stress as they are easy to learn! Here’s how deep breathing exercises work:
1. Breathe in gradually until your lungs feel they’re at full capacity.
2. Hold your breath for a short moment.
3. Now, think to yourself “relax” as you slowly exhale.
4. Repeat each stage five to ten times.

The benefit of deep breathing is that it can be performed at any time, in any place. You should practice deep breathing in your own time and then use it when you start to feel stressed.

Depression and Anxiety

Another benefit that exercise has to offer for our mental well-being is that it reduces depression and anxiety symptoms. When we engage in physical activity, it boosts the feel-good chemical in our body known as an Endorphin. Endorphins decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression by communicating with receptors in our brains responsible for positive emotions. Many doctors recommend that if you are experiencing depression and anxiety symptoms, you should create an exercise routine throughout the week before turning to medication. 

Sleep

There is significant evidence that exercising makes it easier to fall asleep at night as well as increasing your sleep consistency. Moderate exercise, for instance, boosts the amount of slow-wave sleep you experience which gives the brain and body time to rejuvenate over night. Slow wave sleep also helps regulate your built-in alarm clock, known as a circadian rhythm that controls when we feel tired and alert. Secondly, exercise stabilises your mood and helps unwind the mind; the science behind this cognitive process is that as we engage in physical activity, our body temperature increases, creating a soothing and calming effect on our mind.

It is important to remember that exercising too close to sleep can often have a negative effect on your sleep pattern. The rule of thumb is that you should exercise at least one to two hours before going to bed, as exercise causes the brain to stay active which can keep you awake at night.

Brain boost

Last but certainly not least is the relatively unknown link exercise has with mental well-being as it helps boost our brainpower. Many studies found that exercise expands the Hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for memory, learning and the prevention of cognitive decline. Although this benefit is not as well known as the others, it could perhaps be the most important as it involves the brain, one of our most vital organs.

An abundance of advantages, with few costs!

The idea that exercise can improve your mental well-being is especially good news as exercise, in general, is relatively cheap. Exercise does not have to be carried out with expensive equipment such as ab or thigh machines that only work one part of the body; you can do most exercise for free such as a jog or a run, or with only a small initial purchase of some at-home gym equipment. A great idea to keep costs low is by purchasing exercise equipment that has multiple uses:

  • An exercise ball price starts from just £10. They are great for ab workouts; they can be used as a support during weight training activities, cardio exercise and can even be used while watching TV or working on the computer!
  • Resistance Bands typically start at £15 depending on the level of resistance you would like from the band. They are great as you can use them anywhere for shoulder and chest presses, curls, squats, and other exercises that involve pulling and pushing. 
  • Multi-gyms are relatively expensive and may feel like a huge investment, however, overtime, they may save you the money you’d spend on a monthly gym membership. They start at around £350 and allow you to work your entire body with various exercises. Before purchasing a multi-gym, I recommend reading through a buying guide and viewing the different workout plans available when using the equipment.  

So now, you may be asking yourself how much exercise is enough to improve your mental well-being? It is recommended that you exercise at least once per day, as it provides the most benefits to not only your mental health but also your physical health. The exercise you decide to choose is entirely up to you, but you should start by aiming to do either 15 to 20 minutes of vigorous exercise such as a workout using the equipment recommended or 30 to 40 minutes of moderate exercise such as a walk or a brisk jog!

I hope this blog has helped highlight the link between physical health and our mental well-being and set you on your way to an improved lifestyle by lifting yourself up when you start to feel down!

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