Mental Health and Exercise

Jarrod Wilson (Exercise Physiologist – Burnie)

Mental Health Statistics

Mental health disorders are of course very difficult to track and so it is believed that the actual statistics are largely under-represented, both in Australia and globally. In Australia alone, it is estimated that approximately 12% of the population meet the criteria for a diagnosable mental health disorder (e.g. Anxiety, Depression, Stress Disorder). On the global scale, approximately 1.1 billion people are believed to suffer from a mental health disorder.

Why is Exercise Important for Mental Health?

We exercise for benefits to our physical health but why do don’t we exercise for mental health? Maybe the answer lies in the science. Research has told us for years that exercise has profound advantages for our physical health, helping to prevent and manage chronic disease, namely cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and stroke. On the contrary, the research in the field of mental health and exercise is only just beginning to flourish. There is now considerable evidence that exercise can positively influence our mental health, and it has this effect in several ways. There are about 40 types of endorphins released within the body whenever we exercise. These are associated with a stress-lowering effect. Studies have shown that both light-moderate and vigorous exercise can induce a positive stress response. Specifically, the major benefits of exercise on our mental health include:

  • Boosting dopamine, the hormone/neurotransmitter that is responsible for arousing positive feelings and emotions and increasing motivation.
  • Increasing serotonin, the key hormone/neurotransmitter that regulates our feelings of happiness and well-being.
  • Releasing norepinephrine, the hormone/neurotransmitter that helps to wake up the brain and moderate stress when the body undergoes a change in activity. Norepinephrine is also associated with improvements in self-esteem.
  • Improving social well-being; it is well established that we are social beings and that we crave to belong to, and be a part of, a community and society. Exercising in groups has been associated with positive mental health outcomes.

Active woman exercising in the meadow Free Photo

What an Exercise Physiologist Recommends:

1 Educate yourself with exercise and simplify what you need to do

Remember something is better than nothing! Often people get too caught up with having to do ‘a lot’ of exercise when this is not the case. Just 10 minutes of exercise has been shown to elicit positive physical and mental health outcomes.

2 Consider exercising with a friend, family member, or within a group

As discussed above, exercising in a social environment can benefit the outcomes of the exercise you engage in, and can keep you motivated and on track to stick with an exercise regime long term.

3 Develop a routine and stick with it

Like everything else in life, exercise requires a routine. If there is no routine with exercise, chances are that you If you don’t exercise currently, this does require behaviour change which is not simple. This leads us to the last tip….

4 See an exercise professional

If you do not know where to start, or are worried about the effects of exercise, speaking with someone ‘in the know’ may just be the starting point for you! You are also not alone in acquiring the services of an Exercise Physiologist for the purpose of improving your mental health – this is something Exercise Physiologist see daily!

If you need advice on exercise, or if you would like to talk more about how exercise can benefit your mental health, please contact Coastal Physiotherapy at our Burnie clinic to arrange an appointment with an Exercise Physiologist.

References

The connection between physical & mental health