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     How Is Exercise Good For Your Mental Health? 

  • How Is Exercise Good For Your Mental Health?
  • How Does Regular Exercise Improve Our Immune System?

There are many reasons why physical activity is good for your body – having a healthy heart and improving your joints and bones are just two, but did you know that physical activity is also beneficial for your mental health and wellbeing?

We need to change the way we view physical activity, in order not to see it as something we 'have to do', 'should do' or 'ought to do' for our health, but as something that we do because we personally value its positive benefits to our wellbeing. Being active doesn't have to mean doing sport or going to the gym. There are lots of ways to be active; find the one that works for you and let's all get physical!

At a very basic level, physical activity means any movement of your body that uses your muscles and expends energy. One of the great things about physical activity is that there are endless possibilities and there will be an activity to suit almost everyone! It is recommended that the average adult should do between 75 and 150 minutes of exercise a week. This can be either moderate intensity exercise, such as walking, hiking or riding a bike, or it can be more vigorous activities, such as running, swimming fast, aerobics or skipping with a rope. Any activity that raises your heart rate, makes you breathe faster, and makes you feel warmer counts towards your exercise! An easy way to look at types of physical activity is to put them into four separate categories.

Daily physical activity

For adults, physical activity can include recreational or leisure-time physical activity, transportation (e.g. walking or cycling), occupational activity (i.e. work), household chores, play, games, sports, or planned exercise in the context of daily, family, and community activities. Everyday things such as walking to the bus stop, carrying bags or climbing stairs all count, and can add up to the 150 minutes of exercise a week recommended for the average adult.

Exercise

Purposeful activity carried out to improve health or fitness, such as jogging or cycling, or lifting weights to increase strength.

Play

Unstructured activity that is done for fun or enjoyment.

Sport

Structured and competitive activities that include anything from football or squash to cricket. We can play these as part of a team or even on our own. This can be a fun and interactive way of getting exercise that doesn't have to feel like exercising. These activities can vary in intensity and can include high-intensity activities, such as tennis, athletics, swimming, and keep-fit classes, or they can be lower-intensity activities and sports, such as snooker or darts. Making exercise fun rather than something you have to do can be a motivator to keep it up.


Mental wellbeing does not have a single universal definition, but it does encompass factors such as:

  • The sense of feeling good about ourselves and being able to function well individually or in relationships
  • The ability to deal with the ups and downs of life, such as coping with challenges and making the most of opportunities
  • The feeling of connection to our community and surroundings
  • Having control and freedom over our lives
  • Having a sense of purpose and feeling valued


Of course, mental wellbeing does not mean being happy all the time, and it does not mean that you won't experience negative or painful emotions, such as grief, loss, or failure, which are a part of normal life. However, whatever your age, being physically active can help you to lead a mentally healthier life and can improve your wellbeing.

Physical activity has a huge potential to enhance our wellbeing. Even a short burst of 10 minutes' brisk walking increases our mental alertness, energy and positive mood. Participation in regular physical activity can increase our self-esteem and can reduce stress and anxiety. It also plays a role in preventing the development of mental health problems and in improving the quality of life of people experiencing mental health problems.

Impact on our mood

Physical activity has been shown to have a positive impact on our mood. A study asked people to rate their mood immediately after periods of physical activity (e.g. going for a walk or doing housework), and periods of inactivity (e.g. reading a book or watching television). Researchers found that the participants felt more content, more awake and calmer after being physically active compared to after periods of inactivity. They also found that the effect of physical activity on mood was greatest when mood was initially low. There are many studies looking at physical activity at different levels of intensity and its impact on people's mood. Overall, research has found that low-intensity aerobic exercise – for 30–35 minutes, 3–5 days a week, for 10–12 weeks – was best at increasing positive moods (e.g. enthusiasm, alertness).

Impact on our stress

When events occur that make us feel threatened or that upset our balance in some way, our body's defences cut in and create a stress response, which may make us feel a variety of uncomfortable physical symptoms and make us behave differently, and we may also experience emotions more intensely. The most common physical signs of stress include sleeping problems, sweating, and loss of appetite. Symptoms like these are triggered by a rush of stress hormones in our body – otherwise known as the 'fight or flight' response. It is these hormones, adrenaline and noradrenaline, which raise our blood pressure, increase our heart rate and increase the rate at which we perspire, preparing our body for an emergency response. They can also reduce blood flow to our skin and can reduce our stomach activity, while cortisol, another stress hormone, releases fat and sugar into the system to boost our energy. Physical exercise can be very effective in relieving stress. Research on employed adults has found that highly active individuals tend to have lower stress rates compared to individuals who are less active.

Impact on our self-esteem

Exercise not only has a positive impact on our physical health, but it can also increase our self-esteem. Self-esteem is how we feel about ourselves and how we perceive our self-worth. It is a key indicator of our mental wellbeing and our ability to cope with life stressors. Physical activity has been shown to have a positive influence on our self-esteem and self-worth. This relationship has been found in children, adolescents, young adults, adults and older people, and across both males and females.

Dementia and cognitive decline in older people

Improvements in healthcare have led to an increasing life expectancy and a growing population of people over 65 years. Alongside this increase in life expectancy, there has been an increase in the number of people living with dementia and in people with cognitive decline. The main symptom of dementia is memory loss; it is a progressive disease that results in people becoming more impaired over time. Decline in cognitive functions, such as attention and concentration, also occurs in older people, including those who do not develop dementia. Physical activity has been identified as a protective factor in studies that examined risk factors for dementia. For people who have already developed the disease, physical activity can help to delay further decline in functioning. Studies show that there is approximately a 20% to 30% lower risk of depression and dementia for adults participating in daily physical activity. Physical activity also seems to reduce the likelihood of experiencing cognitive decline in people who do not have dementia.

Impact on depression and anxiety

Physical activity can be an alternative treatment for depression. It can be used as a standalone treatment or in combination with medication and/or psychological therapy.It has few side effects and does not have the stigma that some people perceive to be attached to taking antidepressants or attending psychotherapy and counselling. Physical activity can reduce levels of anxiety in people with mild symptoms and may also be helpful for treating clinical anxiety. Physical activity is available to all, has few costs attached, and is an empowering approach that can support self-management.

How Does Regular Exercise Improve Our Immune System?

The idea of boosting your immunity is enticing, but the ability to do so has proved elusive for several reasons. The immune system is precisely that — a system, not a single entity. To function well, it requires balance and harmony. There is still much that researchers don't know about the intricacies and interconnectedness of the immune response. For now, there are no scientifically proven direct links between lifestyle and enhanced immune function.

But that doesn't mean the effects of lifestyle on the immune system aren't intriguing and shouldn't be studied. Researchers are exploring the effects of diet, exercise, age, psychological stress, and other factors on the immune response, both in animals and in humans. In the meantime, general healthy-living strategies are a good way to start giving your immune system the upper hand.

Healthy ways to strengthen your immune system

Your first line of defense is to choose a healthy lifestyle. Following general good-health guidelines is the single best step you can take toward naturally keeping your immune system strong and healthy. Every part of your body, including your immune system, functions better when protected from environmental assaults and bolstered by healthy-living strategies such as these:

  • Don't smoke.
  • Eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • If you drink alcohol, drink only in moderation.
  • Get adequate sleep.
  • Take steps to avoid infection, such as washing your hands frequently and cooking meats thoroughly.
  • Try to minimize stress

Regular exercise is one of the pillars of healthy living. It improves cardiovascular health, lowers blood pressure, helps control body weight, and protects against a variety of diseases. But does it help to boost your immune system naturally and keep it healthy? Just like a healthy diet, exercise can contribute to general good health and therefore to a healthy immune system. It may contribute even more directly by promoting good circulation, which allows the cells and substances of the immune system to move through the body freely and do their job efficiently.

"Exercise not only changes your body. It changes your mind, attitude, and mood."

by Hospital and Health Care Management

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