We asked two leading expert’s, Holly Balan, and Fi Clarke, to explain how exercising can protect our mental health and relieve the pressures and stresses of everyday life.
Engaging in exercise to look after our bodies is amazing, but we should not neglect what is arguably the most important organ in the body – the brain.
Firstly, it is important to highlight that everybody ‘has’ mental health and the importance of exercising for mental health extends to us all, not just to those with a diagnosed mental health condition such as anxiety or depression.
Put simply, mental health refers to our emotional and psychological wellbeing, and can influence our self-esteem, as well as how we think, feel, act, cope with life’s stresses, and engage with our loved ones.
Mental health and wellbeing can be impacted at any stage of life (due to stress, grief, physical health concerns, hormones) and should therefore be prioritised at all ages alongside our physical health.
Exercise and physical activity can have an enormously positive impact upon our mental health – think ‘strong body, strong mind’. Countless studies have highlighted the improvements that exercise, and physical activity has upon mental health, with positive effects including:
Improved cognitive functioning (including a reduction in risk of developing dementia)
Reduced symptoms of anxiety, depression and negative mood
Increased ability to manage stress
Increased mental alertness and energy levels
Fi Clarke, explains, exercise comes in many forms and levels of challenge, and all types of exercise has a positive impact on mental wellbeing. Whether it’s a short walk in the park or an intense cardio-based studio class, it’s vital that we exercise daily to stay healthy in both body and mind. Some of the many benefits are:
Moving our body for prolonged periods of time helps to relieve stress and anxiety. If you are someone who suffers with regular stress, exercise is a brilliant tonic to help give you head space and to leave you feeling calmer and more collected. When we’re exercising, we are very much in the moment and focusing on what our body is doing, this can be exactly what is needed to help the brain to filter through the constant narrative we all have and to help gain perspective on issues and to solve problems. When our stress hormones are running high, the nervous system is in a state of ‘fight or flight’ (emergency state) which has a direct effect on how our brain functions as cortisol levels are high. With exercise we can help to soothe the nervous system, lower blood pressure and balance out our hormones to help alleviate stress and anxiety. FLY LDN Online offers super chilled yoga flows, stretch sequences and wind-down classes to help you relax and restore, especially when stress and anxiety levels are high.
Exercise has long been known to improve sleep quality. It has been scientifically proven that moderate aerobic exercise increases the amount of deep sleep (also known as slow wave sleep) meaning your body and mind get the restoration they need to feel well and energised the following day. However, it’s important to note that for some people exercising in the evening can disrupt the ability to get to sleep if energy levels are still high so it is advisable to exercise in the morning or afternoon if you can.
Low energy is linked to states of depression and when we exercise, although it takes energy initially to get started, it also boosts energy levels that can last for hours throughout the day. Through exercise we can, by default, connect to our local surroundings and community and social and environmental contact is imperative to positive mental health. Endorphins are raised through cardiovascular exercise which improves and stabilises overall mood as well as decompresses the mind.
Cardiovascular exercise has been proven to create new brain cells, therefore increasing memory function, learning ability and overall brain performance. It also helps to prevent decline in brain health and memory loss. Daily exercise does not need to involve an expensive gym or lots of equipment. A brisk walk, swim or cycle are all great ways to get the body mobilising, blood pumping and therefore giving your brain a refresh and injection of energy to set you up for the day.
Holly Balan is a Trainer at F45 Training Chelsea
Fi Clark is Head of Yoga at FLY LDN