Is movement medicine?
Using Exercise to Improve Your Mental Health
Exercise is generally associated with physical improvements such as reducing weight, increasing strength, managing injuries or enhancing sports performance.
But have you ever heard the saying ‘exercise is medicine’? What does that mean? And is it really true? Well, I am here to set the story straight on that one.
Research has explored this and has found that in many cases the anti-depressant effect of exercise is proven to be of the same significance as therapeutic interventions!
You may have heard people talk about a feeling of a ‘natural high’ after a workout. Or, you may have experienced this yourself. That feeling is due to endorphins (neurochemicals) which are released during and after exercise. The regular release of these endorphins can lead to psychological changes such as improved self-esteem and confidence, and can also reduce lower levels of depression and anxiety.
However, we understand that for those with depression or anxiety, exercise can be the last thing they want to do. It can also be really hard to know where to begin, especially if exercise is not something you have been consistent with before.
Unfortunately, the reality is that the first 4-6 weeks of beginning regular exercise can be really tough. Most people find they may feel sore (a phenomenon called DOMS – delayed onset of muscle soreness), have less energy after exercising and struggle with motivation. This is where support to get started can be very beneficial in increasing adherence, motivation and confidence. Trust me, although starting is hard, it will be worth it in the long run, and it does get easier as your body and mind adapt.
Read on to find out why…..
How can exercise help?
- Individuals with anxiety can be prone to a higher resting heart rate, jittery feelings, and hyperactivity. Exercise helps to lower your resting heart rate and can reduce those jittery or hyperactive feelings.
- When we are exercising, we focus on the workout, technique, counting repetitions ect. Exercise can help distract you from negative thoughts and feelings, and stay in the present moment.
- Physical activity can also add routine and structure to our lives, which is known to improve our mental health. Also if you are attending a gym, it can be a great reason to leave the house for the day.
- Exercise can improve sleep quality. Being physically active requires you to expend energy, and helps you feel more tired and ready to rest at the end of the day. Research indicates that exercise which is part of a consistent routine can help boost sleep duration and quality.
- Increase productivity – when we exercise, our blood flow is increased which helps carry oxygen and nutrients to our muscles and makes us more energised and alert. As a result, people who exercise regularly are generally more productive in both work and personal life.
Ways to make exercise more enjoyable:
- Make it social – joining an exercise class is a great way to meet others, foster a sense of community and maintain motivation to keep coming back.
- Listen to music – listening to your favourite tunes can help boost your energy and mood while working out. It can also help you to block out distractions and have some time to yourself.
- Wear comfortable clothes – this is important to boost your confidence when exercising.
- Don’t compare yourself to others – comparing ourselves to other people can lead to diminishing ourselves and invalidating our own growth and progress.
- Start gently and build up slowly – remember, you are in this for the long haul so gradually increasing your exercise/physical activity over time is the best way to go. This allows your body to adapt to your exercise, and reduces your risk of injury.
- Set reasonable goals – think about what exercise routine will fit into your schedule and will allow you to succeed.
- Make a commitment to your exercise plan – schedule your exercise sessions like you would any other important appointment in your life. Prioritizing your health and well-being by setting aside time for exercise is key to successful long-term outcomes for your physical and mental health.
- Have realistic expectations – this means, prepare for setbacks and obstacles. We all know the initial honeymoon phase of starting something new generally fades over time. So, expect that it will not always feel easy. Be kind to yourself and give yourself credit for small steps in the right direction.
- Celebrate all the little wins along the way – be proud of yourself for what you accomplish.
Physical activity has a huge potential to enhance our well-being. Even a short, brisk walk can increase mental alertness, energy and positive mood.
As exercise has shown to improve the quality of life for people experiencing mental health conditions, doctors are now beginning to prescribe exercise more commonly.
At O-health, we want to support those who may be struggling with their mental health, and have a friendly team who can support you on your journey.
If you wish to find out more, or would like to have a chat with one of our practitioners, do not hesitate to get in touch on 02 6021 2777.
Written by Accredited Exercise Physiologist Jas Morrow