How Fitness Helps Mental Health

How Fitness Helps Mental Health

Apr 18, 20220 comments

Our modern-day lives of waking up, driving our cars to work, sitting at a desk looking at a screen while working, driving back home, eating, and sleeping while occasionally driving to the store to stock up on more food has left health detriments on our society. Humans have always been made for movement, for physical adaptability to our environment, for survival in the wild. Now, however, a sedentary lifestyle has led to a decline in physical fitness throughout many in the world at large. For one, obesity rates in Canada, i.e. for those who have a BMI of 30 or over, have risen from 9.7% from 1970-1972 to 14.9% in 1998 to 25.3% in 2011.

While this trend is not limited to Canada, it does represent an alarming trend of a need to specifically dedicate our time to maintaining our physical fitness in order to stay healthy. And staying healthy doesn’t just entail the physical although that is certainly an upside. For one, an increase in aerobic exercise; exercise that includes cardio, endurance and stretching; has been shown to have numerous health benefits such as decreased blood pressure, increase the efficiency of respiration, improve your cardiovascular efficiency which lower the risk of heart attack and stroke and of course strengthen your muscles, bones and ligaments which lowers your risk of injury and osteoporosis.

How does physical activity help mental health?

The often overlooked aspect of the benefits of physical fitness is the mental aspect. For one, it has been shown that exercise is a great tool to help improve one’s self-esteem which is one of the most important indicators for mental health. This is because it puts our minds in a positive state by putting all our focus on what we are doing in that very moment which is the physical activity and not allowing your mind to wander off and focus on other, less controllable factors, that put us in a bad mood but we never do anything to confront. The increase in self-esteem can be in your body image or your self-image such as not seeing yourself as lazy anymore and instead as a hard-working individual trying his or her best.

Physical activity has also been shown to improve one’s sleep quality. Exercise helps people fall asleep sooner as well as help you sleep better and get more out of those precious hours of sleep that you need every night to get back up on your feet the next day. However, make sure to try to exercise at least 3 hours before going to sleep since it is possible that the main reason for this improved sleep is the subsequent drop in body temperature after the exercise. Besides better sleep, it has also been known to reduce insomnia by decreasing factors such as arousal and anxiety which are very widespread factors with anxiety being reported in 18% of American adults every year but with only 37% ever receiving treatment. 

Does exercise improve mental health research?

Businesses follow the wallets of consumers, not the other way around. It’s because of this that in order to improve mental health research and have corporations put their money to where it really matters, we need to make our opinions evident and crystal clear. It’s because of people’s recent tendencies to start taking time out of their day specifically to exercise that an article in the American Psychological Association in 2011 called: “The exercise effect”, implored psychologists to use exercise as part of their treatment for patients. 

In recent years, there has also been the increased popularity of walks or runs for some sort of mental health research such as the run for autism as well as many others. The more socially acceptable we make discussing and treating mental health with our increased focus on physical exercise as a tool for improving one’s mental well-being, the more open we can be about issues that pertain to us, the more we can focus on finding solutions.

What exercise is good for depression?

In short, the answer to improving symptoms of depression is as simple as getting up and moving! Studies have shown that simply going out more often for walks in your local neighbourhood can be a great way to help you feel better. One reasoning for this is due to the healthy dose of sunlight which has been shown to increase our serotonin levels which is the chemical substance in our bodies that leads to feelings of wellbeing and happiness. Some other more specialized activities you can do are going on runs to take your walking experience to the next level. The unique mix of cardio and endurance in running has been known to release chemicals in your brain known as endorphins which produce a sort of euphoria that is commonly known as “runner’s high”. 

This type of mood lift isn’t exclusive to running as many other athletes playing any physical sports at a high level have been known to experience this effect. This type of euphoria can be a wave of fresh air for people struggling with depression. In general, anaerobic exercise; exercise that focuses primarily on building muscle and bone mass, is not a good method. This is because of its focus on comparing your performance to the performance of others which is often exactly what brings people into that depressed state of mind in the first place.

How does exercise improve your mood?

Exercise is one of the greatest mood stimulators that you can find that doesn't involve gorging yourself on your favourite sweets or taking to other addictions such as alcohol, tobacco and/or marijuana. The great power of exercise is that it actually does improve your long-term mood while the rest of these options, while they do bring you greater short-term pleasure and relief, only mask the long-term problems from you until you’ve settled out of your high. For one, that self-esteem that you generate from exercise acts as a sort of trampoline for you to never get too down on yourself by reminding yourself that you are willingly making a positive difference in your life for change.

The endorphins mentioned earlier that are released during exercise improve one’s mood since it is once again, “the happy hormone” in the body. This mixing of “runner’s high” involved in physical activity along with the boost in self-esteem and your body’s concentration on its current task results in stress relief that leads to an overall better wellbeing. Other types of exercise such as yoga and tai chi have also been known to be effective against symptoms of anxiety and/or depression with part of the positive change also being attributed to being part of a positive social group that constantly encourage you to keep going and go against the voice in your head that tells you to stop.


So at the end of the day, exercise has numerous profound effects on a person’s mental wellbeing with everything from an increase in self-esteem, decrease in anxiety and depression, better and higher quality sleep, stress relief as well as simply just feeling happier all being attributed to the effects of exercising. So why not start working out, jogging, or taking yoga lessons today? We promise you won't be disappointed.

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