Mental Health and Exercise- The Positive Relationship
It is very common knowledge that exercise is one of the most important components to improving our physical health. However, the importance of physical activity on our mental health is generally under appreciated. Evidence has shown that regular physical activity or exercise is as much important for our mental health as it is to the physical health. Exercise Physiologists or physiotherapists are able to help design and implement a program which is consistent with the recommended prescription of exercise as per the American College of sports medicine. The exercise will be at a level that enables individuals with psychosocial disability to perform at a safe and engaging service. Most importantly, a consistent and engaging level of exercise enables individuals with underlying psychosocial disability to have a routine and to slowly work on behavioral change. A behavioral change around exercise and a consistent routine will potentially enable an improved quality of life.
In addition, physiotherapists and exercises physiologists are well placed professionals to have a good understanding of an individuals physical pain and when helping to alleviate pain. By understanding the underlying cause for musculoskeletal pain and helping to alleviate the pain individuals with a psychosocial disability can feel better with the positive affects of reduced pain often transferring to other areas of their life.
Which other allied health professionals work with individuals with psychosocial disability?
Generally, psychologists, counsellors and mental health occupational therapists work with individuals with psychosocial disability. Occupational therapists usually complete an Occupational therapy assessment or a functional capacity assessment to understand how an individual psychosocial disability impact they way which they live their life. Psychologists, counsellors and psychotherapists use a variety of different techniques to assist in improving or managing an individuals psychosocial disability.
How does psychosocial disability affect a person’s life?
Psychosocial disability impacts the way an individual thinks, feels, behaves and interacts resulting in a decline in function both mentally and physically. These disabilities impacts a person’s ability to work or carry out activities or even engage in personal relationships. Most common conditions are depression and anxiety disorders.
The prevalence of mental health conditions have been increased rapidly over the years, where it is recorded that in Australia 1 in 5 individuals aged 16-85 experienced a mental illness in a the past year.
Benefits of Exercise on mental health
1. Improve sense of well being
Psychosocial disability has a significant impacts on the well-being of an individual both physically and emotionally. This affects an individual’s motivation, self- confidence and also their sense of purpose, thus affecting their daily life, their relationships and their physical condition.
Physical activity has the ability to improve both your mental and physical well-being. Regular exercise has shown to improve an individual’s self-confidence and motivation levels, thus improving their quality of life. Even a short 10 minute jog or 20 minute walk has ability to boost your mood, concentration levels and energy levels. It will allow individuals to leave their negative thoughts behind and focus on their increased heart rate or the blood pumping through their muscles during exercise. Exercise also has the ability to improve sleep quality and increase energy levels which are impacted due to depression, anxiety or other psychosocial disabilities. Improving sleep quality will promote for a better recovery the next day and an increase level of energy.
One of the major contributors to mental health is stress. There are various stressors which can impact an individual such as stress from your job, breakup, loss of job, loss of loved one or even just a feeling of hopelessness. If these stressors are not addressed early, prolonged chronic stress can lead to various mental health issues.
Regular exercise or physical activity plays a major role in reducing stress levels, anxiety, depression and negative mood. Physical activity reduces the body’s stress hormones such as adrenaline and stimulates production of endorphins which are responsible for elevation of mood. Exercise allows an improvement in self-esteem and cognitive function. As you get stronger, fitter and lose weight you your self-confidence can increase . This will allow you to achieve other important functional and lifestyle goals.
3. Promotes various changes in the brain
Biologically, evidence has shown that physical activity promotes changes to specific chemicals in the brain called endorphins. This chemical is responsible for increased positive mood which help reduce pain and stress during exercise. Exercise also stimulates various other chemicals such as Serotonin and Dopamine which play a major role in the feeling of pleasure positive mood.
4. Improve cardiovascular and overall physical health
Mental health illness is one of the major factors associated with general wellbeing and physical health. There is a strong correlation between chronic mental health conditions like depression with diabetes, obesity, cancer, and Cardiovascular disease.
Exercise has a positive effect on the overall physical health of an individual. Both aerobic training and resistance training have a positive effect in controlling all these co-morbidities thus increasing your fitness levels, strength levels and also reducing weight. This will help individuals to achieve their physical goals, thus improving their physical and mental being. The feeling of your heart pumping while jogging or the feeling of your muscles activating when exercising has a positive effect on the brain and an increase in energy.
What is the best type of exercise to improve Mental Health?
The answer is there isn’t one- research has shown that the best exercise to help mental health is unplanned daily physical activity. Evidence has shown that the most potent effect seen in mental health is a combination of aerobic and resistance exercise. The exercise intervention should be individualised, structured and focused on intrinsic motivation so the individual meets the recommended physical activity guidelines. Guidelines have shown that 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise 5 days a week can make a significant difference in improving overall mental wellbeing and physical health. Exercises can range from cycling, running, lifting weights, playing a sport or anything that increasing your heart rate. It can even involve climbing stairs, gardening, cleaning and walking around the block.
The main message is that the more exercise you do, the more energy you will have and the better you will feel physically and mentally. Increasing incidental activity is great way of incorporating physical activity in a busy schedule such as parking a bit further and walking to work, walk upstairs instead of using an elevator and walking the dog daily.
Ways of starting exercise:
- Focusing on doing exercise which you enjoy and you think you can do consistently
- Start by doing a small amount of exercise and slowly progress over time – focus on building short term goals and achieving those
- Write a schedule so you have a specific time set for exercising. This will help you get exercise done in a busy schedule.
- Incorporate exercise and physical activity into your daily routing such as parking a bit further and walking to work or walking upstairs instead of using an elevator
- Exercise with a family member or friend so you can also socialise and enjoy the session
- HAVE FUN!!!!