Mental Health & Fitness
We all know that exercise is good for our bodies, but did you know that exercise can also boost your mood, improve your sleep and help you deal with anxiety, depression and stress? Exercise gives you an enormous sense of well-being, and you do not have to be a fitness fanatic to reap the benefits.
Mental Health Ireland reported that 93% of people feel there are things we can do to improve our mental health and well-being, yet only 39% of people use exercise. Reports find Ireland has one of the highest rates of mental health illness in Europe, saying one quarter of Irish people experienced mental health problems for the first time during the Covid '19 pandemic.
Having a serious mental health illness can reduce your life expectancy by 10-20 years, it also makes you experience a more negative day-to-day life.
Of course, mental health illnesses are very common and it is okay not to feel okay. Many top athletes have in the recent years opened up about their mental health experiences to break the stigma attached and show people that it is something that does in fact require effort and commitment to overcome. Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian in history, said he had suicidal thoughts even at the peak of his remarkable swimming career.
So, how exactly can exercise help you relieve symptoms or, better yet, prevent mental health issues altogether? A recent study has shown that running for 15 minutes or walking for one hour a day reduces the risk of major depression by 26% in addition to relieving symptoms, so, maintaining an exercise routine can prevent you from relapsing.
Exercise promotes neural growth, reduces inflammation and promotes new activity patterns in the brain that promote feelings of calm and well-being. It releases "happy hormones" such as endorphins and serotonin to make you feel good, whilst reducing skeletal muscle tension, so that you physically are more chilled, too.
Studies have also found that people who exercise 2-3 times per week experience significantly less depression, anger and stress and are also found to have stronger feelings of social integration, too. It is important to remember that in order to be "healthy" you must look at your health as a whole, not just one specific area. Seeing as exercise improves sleep, focus and overall mood, it does a pretty good job at covering a lot of the areas that contribute to your overall health. Do not forget that fitness facilities provide a great social opportunity too, giving you an outlet and community of like-minded individuals who are all focused on improving their lives. Being amongst so many other positive people that share the same passion helps increase the benefits of physical activity.
And let's not overlook the positive distraction it provides. Whether you suffer from stress, anxiety, depression or anger, focusing on the physical act of your preferred fitness – your breathing, the movement in your body and the stamina involved – provides a fantastic opportunity for you to "get outside your head" and give yourself a mental break. Regardless of what style of fitness you desire or whether you spend one hour a day or three hours a week exercising, that mental break will do your mind and body the world of good.
If you want to get specific with your exercise routine, then look at goal setting to direct your main focus on the most important elements to be enhanced. Motivation is all about having needs and striving to have those needs met. You stay driven and excited when you find a way to motivate yourself within your preferred fitness field. When you focus on goal-setting, you are providing yourself with incentives that improve commitment, confidence and satisfaction within yourself, once your goals are achieved.
Effective goal setting should follow the "SMART" principle, which we practice here at Lifestyle Fitness. Achieving your goals will give you a boost that can impact areas of your everyday life with your new found confidence soaring. This will in turn reflect in your career, your family life and your social life too.
So, let's look after our mental health. Find a style of fitness that suits you, whether it is running, weight lifting or pilates, the choices are endless and there is most definitely a style out there to suit everyone. Starting is the hardest part. Just believe in yourself and believe in the new change that you are making, know that this is the right thing to do for you. Change up your routine, nourish your body with good food and a good sweat, and make those healthier habits to last a lifetime.
Let's get up, get out and get moving, to keep our bodies strong and lean, and our minds strong too.