Can exercise help your mental health?

April 26th, 2019

Can exercise help your mental health?

By Susi Curzons

  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar
  • Depression
  • Happiness
  • Stress

To some of us, the thought of exercise alone can bring on a feeling of dread. Even short bursts of physical activity can seem daunting, particularly when we’re already feeling less than our best. Whilst it can be difficult to get started, it has become increasingly clear that exercise can help both mental health and overall well-being even in sessions as short as 10 minutes long.

By engaging in regular light to moderate exercise, such as a brisk walk or a leisurely bike ride, you are likely to see improvements in your mood. These improvements are not only present shortly after exercising, but when done regularly it can also have long-lasting positive effects on your mood. In fact, research shows that those who exercise regularly report nearly half the poor mental health days on average a month than those who don’t. What better reason is there to get up and going?

Regular exercise can also help to reduce your levels of stress. It is hypothesised that regular exercise can both change the way in which your body responds to stress and also provide some breathing space from the stressors. Even activities such as walking and gardening show a reduction in risk for psychological distress, this effect is highest in those who play sports.

Similarly, research suggests that anxious symptoms such as agitation, feelings of fear and worry can be reduced by engaging in regular exercise. This is because exercise can help to reduce the body’s reaction to anxiety. Exercise alone has been shown as a great way to improve these anxious symptoms, and these effects are amplified when it comes to high intensity exercise over low intensity exercise. In this instance high intensity exercise is categorised as an activity which causes you to raise your heart rate to at least 60% of your maximum for at least 20 minutes.

If you’re feeling down or depressed you may also be experiencing low energy, which may make you less inclined to get active. The important thing is to find a kind of exercise that you enjoy, that way you will be more motivated. NICE guidelines recommend three sessions a week lasting roughly 45 minutes for 10 to 14 weeks to see improvements in your symptoms.

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