Only one in four adults living in Australia meet the daily recommendation of 150 to 300 minutes of exercise on a daily basis1. The remaining three people who are not lacing up their trainers and being physically active every day are missing out on the physical and mental health benefits regular exercise has to offer.
Running, yoga, HIIT workouts, pilates, strength training, swimming, gardening or a brisk walk around the block; if your body is moving you are winning. Most of us know exercise is good for your heart and maintaining a healthy weight. There are also a number of benefits of exercise for mental health.
The world we live in is full of pressures and demands for our time. Stress has become an accepted part of daily life with people juggling the responsibilities of work, their family obligations and trying to carve out some time to spend with their friends. Something has to give. Often it’s your mental health.
It is estimated as many as 45% of all Australians will develop anxiety or depression at some point in their lives2. While there are genetic factors that predispose you to mental health issues, most often it is a result of your environment and how well you manage your stress. We don’t have control over everything in our lives, but we can make an effort to take care of our well-being through healthy lifestyle practices such as eating a healthy diet and incorporating exercise into our daily routine.
If you need some more convincing, here are the top 5 benefits of daily physical activity for mental health.
1. Exercise Lifts your Mood
A research study published in July 2022 in the journal, Psychology of Sport and Exercise, examined the effect of exercise on mood in thirty people diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD)3. The participants were split into two groups: Group one performed a moderate-intensity cycling workout for half an hour; Group two had to sit for the same amount of time. They were asked to complete a questionnaire to establish their mood before the session, mid-way through the session, immediately after the session and then at twenty-five, fifty, and seventy-five minutes after the session.
When the study participants were involved in the cycling portion of the study, the researchers observed an improvement in their depressive symptoms during the thirty minutes of cycling. That may be expected. It is interesting to note that they also observed the participants’ mood continued to improve for up to seventy-five minutes after the exercise was complete. So, physical activity has a long-lasting effect on managing a depressed mood.
2. Overcome Anxiety With Exercise
Anxiety is a mental health problem experienced by a large percentage of the population, made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic and the current state of the world. It has become crucial for us to learn how to manage our anxiety so that it doesn’t lead to other health problems and a poor quality of life.
When you chat to your doctor about how anxiety seems to be taking control of your life, there’s a good chance you will leave the consultation room with a prescription for anti-anxiety medication. It is useful and can help you through your darkest times, but it would be more beneficial if your doctor took the time to talk to you about the things you can do to stop anxiety before it becomes a debilitating problem.
A study published in January 2022 in the Journal of Affective Disorders examined the effects of exercise on the symptoms of anxiety in 286 primary care patients in Sweden4.
The participants were involved in a 12-week guided exercise program. The results of the study showed a significant improvement in anxiety symptoms associated with regular exercise. The outcomes of the study led the researchers to conclude physical activity should be routinely included in the management of anxiety.
3. Daily Exercise Reduces Stress
Going to the gym might be the last thing on your mind when you are feeling stressed out, but exercise has proven benefits for helping you manage your stress.
It can take your mind off the report your boss is waiting for, or the fight you had with your daughter or the traffic jam you were caught in on your way home.
Have you ever wondered how exercise seems to be able to make the world more manageable? It all comes down to the effects it has on your stress response; your fight-or-flight response to something in your environment your body feels is a threat. When you are faced with a sabre-tooth tiger, or more realistically, the wrath of your boss, your sympathetic nervous system kicks into action. Stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are released, preparing your body to deal with the threat5.
In the case of the sabre-tooth tiger you would have either stood your ground and fought the beast, or run away to survive another day. The stress response would have been short-lived.
In today’s world filled with daily work-stress, traffic jams and endless demands on our time, we are constantly under pressure and many of us are facing the effects of chronic stress. Exercise can help.
When you get off the couch and do even ten minutes of moderate intensity exercise, your stress hormone levels drop and the level of your body’s natural painkillers, endorphins, rise. Physical activity also increases the amount of serotonin and dopamine in your brain, helping to improve your mood.
4. Give Your Self-Esteem A Boost With Daily Physical Activity
Everyone deserves to feel good about themselves. We are all worthy but our inner thoughts and feelings don’t always reflect that. When you are constantly doubting yourself or focusing on the things in your life that have not gone according to plan, you may find your self-esteem and your mental health take a knock.
Luckily there is an easy way to give your self-esteem a boost: daily exercise. Numerous studies have shown a link between regular physical activity and good self-esteem7. Simply making a commitment to an exercise program can make you feel better about yourself. Of course, you have to actually do the exercise to reap the long-term rewards.
The reasons daily exercise help you view yourself in a more positive light range from increasing the flow of oxygen to the brain, building muscle strength and enjoying better overall health. The rise in levels of endorphins, serotonin and dopamine are also have a significant impact on helping you shake off your worries and feel good about yourself.
5. Struggle To Get A Good Night’s Sleep? Exercise May Help
No one feels good if they are deprived of sleep. Even one bad night, tossing and turning and checking the clock every five minutes, can leave you feeling depressed and irritable the next day. You are not alone if this describes you. Research has revealed that more than one third of the general population battles with insomnia8. When poor quality sleep becomes a chronic problem, your physical and mental health are going to suffer.
Sleep is the time in the day when the body slows down so that it can effect repairs from the activities of the day. Your whole body needs the time out, but your brain needs it the most. Sleep helps maintain the connections between nerves which are essential for brain function and waste products are removed from the brain while you are sleeping. When you have trouble nodding off you may suffer from brain fog the next day.
The risk of developing depression increases ten times when you don’t get enough sleep, and the incidence of anxiety increases seventeen times. So, sleep is crucial for good mental health. Regular exercise can help you manage depression and anxiety and it has also been repeatedly linked to improved sleep.
When you do moderate to high intensity exercise everyday, it can make it a lot easier for you to fall asleep more quickly at night. It’s an accessible and simple step for improving your sleep habits. You are also more likely to spend less time staring at the ceiling in the middle of the night, wondering when you are going to fall back asleep9.
Good Mental Health Comes From A Habit Of Daily Exercise
We are constantly reminded of the benefits of regular exercise for our physical health. It is promoted for weight loss and cardiovascular health. Our mental wellbeing is often neglected, though. Our brain needs daily exercise as much as our bodies do.
When you make a commitment to do even a small amount of exercise everyday it becomes easier to keep depression and anxiety at bay, to manage your stress levels, feel better about yourself and get some good quality sleep every night. Regular physical activity is undeniably as good for your brain as it is for your body.
We can help you learn how to move your body well as part of our results-driven model that teaches you how to live a life less stressed. Daily exercise is an essential pillar in your health and mental wellbeing toolbox.
There are so many benefits of exercise for mental health. Find something you love doing. Get outside. Find an exercise buddy. The more fun it is, the more likely you are going to stick with it.
- Physical activity, 2020-21 financial year | Australian Bureau of Statistics [Internet]. Australian Bureau of Statistics. [cited 2022 Jul 13]. Available from: https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/health/health-conditions-and-risks/physical-activity/latest-release
- The facts about depression and anxiety – Beyond Blue [Internet]. Anxiety, depression and suicide prevention support – Beyond Blue. [cited 2022 Jul 13]. Available from: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/the-facts
- Meyer JD, Murray TA, Brower CS, Cruz-Maldonado GA, Perez ML, Ellingson LD, et al. Magnitude, timing and duration of mood state and cognitive effects of acute moderate exercise in major depressive disorder. Psychology of Sport and Exercise [Internet]. 2022 Jul [cited 2022 Jul 13];102172. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.psychsport.2022.102172
- Henriksson M, Wall A, Nyberg J, Adiels M, Lundin K, Bergh Y, et al. Effects of exercise on symptoms of anxiety in primary care patients: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Affective Disorders [Internet]. 2022 Jan [cited 2022 Jul 13];26–34. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2021.10.006
- Chu B. Physiology, Stress Reaction – StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf [Internet]. National Center for Biotechnology Information. [cited 2022 Jul 13]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK541120/?report=classic
- Jackson EM. STRESS RELIEF. ACSM’S Health & Fitness Journal [Internet]. 2013 May [cited 2022 Jul 13];(3):14–9. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1249/FIT.0b013e31828cb1c9
- Liu M, Wu L, Ming Q. How Does Physical Activity Intervention Improve Self-Esteem and Self-Concept in Children and Adolescents? Evidence from a Meta-Analysis. Wallander JL, editor. PLOS ONE [Internet]. 2015 Aug 4 [cited 2022 Jul 13];(8):e0134804. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0134804
- Scott AJ, Webb TL, Martyn-St James M, Rowse G, Weich S. Improving sleep quality leads to better mental health: A meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Sleep Medicine Reviews [Internet]. 2021 Dec [cited 2022 Jul 13];101556. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.smrv.2021.101556
- How Can Exercise Affect Sleep? | Sleep Foundation [Internet]. Sleep Foundation. 2013 [cited 2022 Jul 13]. Available from: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/physical-activity/exercise-and-sleep