A group of adult people high-fiving in a gym

Mental Health: The Transformative Benefits of Exercise

Share this post:

Maintaining mental well-being is of paramount importance in today’s fast-paced world. While therapy and medication serve as vital tools in the management of mental health, there exists another potent, yet often underappreciated, ally: exercise. Beyond its well-documented physical benefits, an expanding body of evidence underscores the significant impact of exercise in enhancing mood and fostering positive mental health. In this article, we will explore the transformative effects of exercise on mental well-being and elucidate how integrating physical activity into one’s routine can serve as a crucial component in promoting mental health.

Mental Health Statistics

A picture showing the prevalence of mental health problems in Australians.
  • Each year, 1 in 5 Australians will experience a mental illness
  • Physical inactivity is the cause of approximately 9% of premature mortality worldwide
  • The relative risk of death is estimated to be 2.2 times higher in people with mental disorders compared to the general population and is largely due to chronic physical health problems rather than mental health issues
  • The 2018 HUNT study has found that 12% of cases of depression could have been prevented by just one hour of exercise a week
  • The American Journal of Psychiatry found physical activity can protect against the emergence of depression, regardless of age and geographical region

Now we have some ideas about how prevalent mental illness is even within Australia, let us look into how a client-focused exercise plan becomes crucial, not just for the short-term benefits, but more importantly for the long-term effects it has on overall mental health and wellness. 

Exercise for Mood Enhancement

To start off, regular exercise is a tool for mood enhancement. Have you ever noticed the uplifted feeling after a brisk walk around your neighbourhood or a satisfying gym session? You might ask yourself, why can exercise boost my mood and make me less stressed? After an exercise session, the levels of chemicals in the brain, such as serotonin, stress hormones and endorphins, change.

Endorphins, a neurotransmitter that acts as natural mood lifters, are produced during exercise. These chemicals reduce feelings of stress and anxiety while promoting an overall sense of well-being. Exercise is also a powerful antidote by reducing the body’s stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. It can help to release unnecessary tension in the body and promote relaxation. Whether it’s Yoga, Pilates, running, or dancing, any form of exercise that suits your preferences can significantly diminish daily stressors. 

Exercise to Improve Sleep

Quality sleep is crucial for both mental and physical health. Numerous studies provide strong evidence that exercise facilitates faster sleep onset and enhances sleep quality. However, the precise mechanisms remain incompletely understood. Research indicates that moderate aerobic exercise increases the duration of slow-wave sleep or deep sleep, a critical phase for the body and brain to rejuvenate and restore function.

The timing of exercise is also significant. For some individuals, exercising close to bedtime can impede sleep onset. This is partly due to exercise-induced endorphin release, which can heighten brain activity and delay sleep. Additionally, physical activity elevates core body temperature, signalling the circadian clock that it is time to be awake. Despite these physiological responses, individual experiences with exercise and sleep vary. It is essential to determine the timing and type of exercise that best aligns with your body’s needs and daily routine.

How Much Exercise for Mental Health?

Any exercise is better than none, and more exercise is better than some; this is a beneficial perspective. Exercise does not need to be strenuous to positively impact mental well-being. The physical activity guidelines for Australians aged 16 to 64 recommend engaging in some form of physical activity most days, if not daily.

Specifically, the guidelines suggest:

  • 2.5 to 5 hours per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, dancing, or lawn mowing.
  • 1.5 to 2.5 hours per week of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, such as jogging, swimming, cycling, or playing sports like soccer.

Combining moderate and vigorous-intensity exercises throughout the week is an effective way to meet these recommendations. Additionally, breaking workouts into smaller segments, such as two 15-minute sessions instead of one 30-minute session, can be more convenient.

The guidelines also emphasize the importance of resistance or strengthening exercises to build muscle strength and endurance. It is recommended to include:

  • 2 sessions of resistance training per week, using free weights, machines, resistance bands, or bodyweight exercises.

These sessions should target all major muscle groups, including both the lower and upper body.

Summary

In conclusion, exercise is a powerful tool for enhancing mental health. From mood enhancement, stress reduction to improved quality of sleep, the benefits of regular physical activity extend far beyond the gym. By making exercise a priority in your daily routine, you can take significant steps toward improving your mental and emotional well-being.

References

Department of Health & Human Services. (n.d.). Exercise and mental health. Retrieved from Department of Health & Human Services: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/exercise-and-mental-health

ESSA. (2018, September 21). Exercise and Mental Health. Retrieved from ESSA, Exercise Right: chrome-extension://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/https://exerciseright.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Exercise-Mental-Health-eBook_LR.pdf

Johns Hopkins Medicine. (2021, August 8). Exercising for better sleep. Retrieved from Johns Hopkins Medicine: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/exercising-for-better-sleepSultana, R. (2023, October 6). How Can Exercise Improve Your Mental Health? Retrieved from Exercise Right: https://exerciseright.com.au/how-can-exercise-improve-your-mental-health/

Share this post:

Related Posts