Physical Activity & Mental Health
6 Life-Changing Strategies to Boost Mood, Build Resilience and Increase Happiness while working in the fashion industry.
2. Staying active is as good for the brain as it is for the body
The mind and the body are intrinsically linked. When you improve your physical health, you will automatically experience greater mental and emotional well-being. Physical activity also releases endorphins, powerful chemicals that lift your mood and provide added energy. Regular exercise or activity can have a significant impact on mental and emotional health problems, relieve stress, improve memory, and help you to sleep better.
But what if I hate to exercise?
Well, you are not alone. Pounding weights in a gym or jogging on a treadmill is not everyone’s idea of a very good time. However, you do not have to be a fitness fanatic to reap the benefits of being more active. Take a walk at lunchtime through a park, walk laps of an air-conditioned mall while window shopping, throw a Frisbee with a dog, dance to your favourite music, play activity-based video games with your kids, cycle or walk to an appointment rather than drive.
You do not have to exercise until you are soaked in sweat or every muscle aches. Even modest amounts of physical activity can make a big difference to your mental and emotional health—and it is something you can engage in right now to boost your energy and outlook and help you regain a sense of control.
Tips for starting an exercise routine
- Aim for 30 minutes or 3 sessions of 10 minutes of activity every day. Start now by taking a walk or dancing to a favourite song.
- Try rhythmic exercise that engages both your arms and legs, such as walking, running, swimming, weight training, martial arts, or dancing.
- Add a mindfulness element to your workouts. Instead of focusing on your thoughts, focus on how your body feels as you move—how your feet hit the ground, for example, the rhythm of your breathing, or the feeling of the wind on your skin.
What are the mental health benefits of exercise?
Exercise is not just about aerobic capacity and muscle size. Sure, exercise can improve your physical health and your physique, trim your waistline, improve your sex life, and even add years to your life. However, that is not what motivates most people to stay active.
People who exercise regularly tend to do so because it gives them an enormous sense of well-being. They feel more energetic throughout the day, sleep better at night, have sharper memories, and feel more relaxed and positive about themselves and their lives. Moreover, it is also powerful medicine for many common mental health challenges.
Exercise and depression
Studies show that exercise can treat mild to moderate depression as effectively as antidepressant medication—but without the side-effects, of course. In addition to relieving depression symptoms, research also shows that maintaining an exercise schedule can prevent you from relapsing.
Exercise is a powerful depression fighter for several reasons. Most importantly, it promotes all kinds of changes in the brain, including neural growth, reduced inflammation, and new activity patterns that encourage feelings of calm and well-being. It also releases endorphins, powerful chemicals in your brain that energise your spirits and make you feel good. Finally, exercise can also serve as a distraction, allowing you to find some quiet time to break out of the cycle of negative thoughts that feed depression.
Exercise and Anxiety
Exercise is a natural and effective anti-anxiety treatment. It relieves tension and stress, boosts physical and mental energy, and enhances well-being through the release of endorphins. Anything that gets you moving can help, but you will get a bigger benefit if you pay attention instead of zoning out.
Try to notice the sensation of your feet hitting the ground, for example, or the rhythm of your breathing, or the feeling of the wind on your skin. By adding this mindfulness element— focusing on your body and how it feels as you exercise—you will not only improve your physical condition faster, but you may also be able to interrupt the flow of constant worries running through your head.
Exercise and stress
Ever noticed how your body feels when you are under stress? Your muscles may be tense, especially in your face, neck, and shoulders, leaving you with back or neck pain, or painful headaches. You may feel a tightness in your chest, a pounding pulse, or muscle cramps. You may also experience problems such as insomnia, heartburn, stomachache, diarrhoea, or frequent urination. The worry and discomfort of all these physical symptoms can, in turn, lead to even more stress, creating a vicious cycle between your mind and body.
Exercising is an effective way to break this cycle. As well as releasing endorphins in the brain, physical activity helps to relax the muscles and relieve tension in the body. Since the body and mind are so closely linked, when your body feels better so, too, will your mind.
Exercise and ADHD
Exercising regularly is one of the easiest and most efficient ways to reduce the symptoms of ADHD and improve concentration, motivation, memory, and mood. Physical activity immediately boosts the brain’s dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels—all of which affect focus and attention. In this way, exercise works in much the same way as ADHD medications such as Ritalin and Adderall.
Exercise and PTSD and trauma
Evidence suggests that by actually focusing on your body and how it feels as you exercise, you can help your nervous system become “unstuck” and begin to move out of the immobilisation stress response that characterises PTSD or trauma. Instead of thinking about other things, pay close attention to the physical sensations in your joints and muscles, even your insides as your body moves. Exercises that involve cross movement and that engage both arms and legs—such as walking (especially in sand), running, swimming, weight training, or dancing—are some of your best choices.
Outdoor activities like hiking, sailing, mountain biking, rock climbing, whitewater rafting, and skiing (downhill and cross-country) have also been shown to reduce the symptoms of PTSD.
Other mental and emotional benefits of exercise
Sharper memory and thinking. The same endorphins that make you feel better also help you concentrate and feel mentally sharp for tasks at hand. Exercise also stimulates the growth of new brain cells and helps prevent age-related decline.
Higher self-esteem. Regular activity is an investment in your mind, body, and soul. When it becomes a habit, it can foster your sense of self-worth and make you feel strong and powerful. You will feel better about your appearance and, by meeting even small exercise goals, you will feel a sense of achievement.
Better sleep. Even short bursts of exercise in the morning or afternoon can help regulate your sleep patterns. If you prefer to exercise at night, relaxing activities such as yoga or gentle stretching can help promote sleep.
More energy. Increasing your heart rate several times a week will give you more get-up-and-go. Start off with just a few minutes of exercise a day, and increase your workout as you feel more energised.
Stronger resilience. When faced with mental or emotional challenges in life, exercise can help you cope in a healthy way, instead of resorting to alcohol, drugs, or other negative behaviours that ultimately only make your symptoms worse. Regular exercise can also help boost your immune system and reduce the impact of stress.*
Take action, connect and speak up!
Authors: Melinda Smith, M.A., Robert Segal, M.A., Lawrence Robinson and Jeanne Segal, PhD.
*Find the strategy number 3 in the next article.