Can fitness help manage your mental wellbeing?

Posted on: 19/07/2019

I think we all know that an inactive lifestyle contributes to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, certain types of cancer, osteoporosis, and generally can shorten life expectancy. FACT.
But do you consider the contribution of physical exercise to your mental health and wellbeing? Maybe, maybe not.

Rates of depression and anxiety are at their highest recorded levels in the UK. Undoubtedly, many aspects of “modern life”— the increasing social media demands we put on ourselves, long working weeks, poor diets, financial pressure and the demands on our image can contribute to this state. However, inactivity is another key factor and I feel this is one of the biggest contributors. I know from personal experience, I feel less energetic/motivated if I am not training as frequently as I would like to be and often leads to bad lifestyle choices which then creates a spiral of negativity.

Most of us find that a walk in the sun or in the beautiful English countryside or that all in important trip to the gym improves our mood in the short term.
Exercise is well known to stimulate the body to produce endorphins and enkephalins, the body’s natural feel-good hormones which can help to manage our problems more effectively. The simple act of focusing on exercise can give us a break from current concerns we may be experiencing. Furthermore, depending on the activity of course, people may benefit from a more calming approach to exercise to improve the mood and general health i.e. Yoga class. Apply yourself to the things that work for you and that you enjoy.

Evidence suggests that exercise is not only necessary for the maintenance of good mental health, but it can be used to even treat chronic mental illness. For example, it is now clear that exercise reduces the likelihood of depression and also maintains mental health as we grow older especially in reducing the risks of dementia, anxiety, and even lowering the risks of cognitive issues in schizophrenia.

But how?

The simple answer being, exercise directly affects the brain. Regular exercise promotes an improved blood supply that improves neuronal health by improving the delivery of oxygen and nutrients.

The critical importance for mental health is the hippocampus—an area of the brain involved in memory, emotion regulation, and learning.
Evidence is accumulating that many mental health conditions are associated with reduced neurogenesis in the hippocampus. The evidence is particularly strong for depression.
Mental ill health is classified by a cognitive inflexibility that keeps us repeating unhelpful behaviours, restricts our ability to process or even acknowledge new information, and reduces our ability to use what we already know to see new solutions or to change. It is therefore plausible that exercise leads to better mental health in general, through its effects on systems that increase the capacity for mental flexibility.

Studies have shown that three exercise sessions per week of aerobic or resistance training, can help control depression. Effects tend to be noticed after about four weeks with the greater results achieved through consistency and longevity.
In addition, the feel-good benefits of potential weight loss, increased energy, better skin, improved physical health will all contribute to a more positive outlook on life. Small improvements in exercise levels or nutrition create a positive upward spiral and eventually become rewarding, even if that seems unimaginable at the start.

In my opinion, exercise should be considered in certain cases to replace medication for chronic mental health conditions
Maybe check out the ‘Wellness Day’ programme with YOLO Retreats who provide an overall focus to wellbeing, including both physical and mental health. GP’s are often great at telling us what to do but often not how to do it.

We are often very good at keeping our problems to ourselves and typically not great at sharing with others, especially us males. From my own experience of allowing stress to affect my performance which I allowed to manifest from my previous business a few years back, I chose not to share my problems which looking back certainly made the issues I was dealing with more challenging. Yes, I was training frequently which 100% helped me manage the issues but in addition talking would have allowed the stress factor to be released internally.

I was recently introduced to two brilliant guys called Matt and Anthony who created The Whole Man Academy which is a modern day space to allow men to talk.  The concept brings together a group each month to provide an opportunity for males to express themselves, just like a set of mates down the pub in a very informal manor. Previous events have included guest speakers such as David Gandy and Leon McKenzie. I am big fan of this and can see this helping many people deal with mental health.

The next Whole Man Academy event takes place at the trendy South Place Hotel in the City on Saturday 12th August. Maybe I will see you there!