The benefits of exercise on mental health

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

How important is exercise?

Paired with good nutrition, we know physical activity is a key factor in maintaining mental wellbeing. But what is it about exercise that directly benefits our mental health?

When we exercise, blood flow and nerve connections increase to our brain, and our brain stimulates happy chemicals like endorphins and serotonin. As a result, we experience:

  • reduced depression and anxiety symptoms
  • improved mood
  • clarity of thought and attention
  • increased productivity
  • improved memory
  • better sleep quality
  • reduction in risk of serious illnesses including diabetes, cancer, heart disease and dementia.

Exercise also often brings opportunities to socialise, reducing feelings of loneliness and isolation.

How do I get started?

If you haven’t done exercise for a while, or never have, it can be hard to know how to begin. The below tips can help with the transition.

Take it easy

The important thing is starting slow and allowing your body to get used to the new movement. Start by integrating small changes, like getting off the bus or train earlier and walking to your destination. Shoot for 30 minutes of low-intensity exercise initially, which can be broken into two 15-minute segments if you’re time poor. Then you can increase the time and intensity of your exercise as you progress. There’s no need to go hard straight away; remember, any additional exercise is a good thing for your wellbeing!

Maintain motivation

Being motivated enough to make exercise a habit can be tricky. But once you do get in the habit, it will start feeling weird to not exercise. Some people find it motivating to:

  • exercise with a friend
  • be active in a group fitness environment
  • exercise at the same time every day
  • set mini-goals to keep them on track
  • write down exercise achievements
  • walk a dog
  • recruit their friends/family to keep them accountable

Do what you love

People always find it easier to stick with an activity when they are interested in it. Think about what exercise might suit you and your personality.

If you are a goal-oriented person and like working towards an end point, perhaps try rock climbing. Looking for an opportunity to socialise? Why not invite a friend on a walk. If you need a stress outlet after a challenging day at work, dodgeball might be for you. Or perhaps you’ve always thought about hip-hop dancing? Now is the time to stop thinking and start doing! You might find a new passion and zest for life in the meantime.

Exercise can open up our world and improve our mental and physical health. So that leaves only one more question… where do I sign up?