The Positive Link Between Mental Health and Exercise

By: Drake WellbeingHub

We all know the effect of exercise on our physical health, but what are it's effects on our mental health?

The current limitations on social contact may be making you feel disconnected, down, anxious even sluggish. Humans are social creatures and without the capacity to get to the gym, the incidental exercise you receive from commuting to work or motivation to cook a healthy meal, it’s normal if you notice an impact on your mental health. We’re told sitting is the new smoking, yet the current government directive is to stay at home unless you have an essential purpose. If you live in a small apartment, achieving the recommended 10,000 steps per day is almost impossible.​


The Relationship Between Mental Health and Physical Health

Research shows there is a strong link between mental health and physical health. The Blackdog Institute (2017) study shows a little over an hour a week of exercise can prevent depression. The study found people who did not engage in any form of exercise showed a 44% increased chance of developing depressive symptoms. Exercise can foster a healthy mind and boost your mood, which can reduce the symptoms of mild depression and anxiety. Evidence shows that when you exercise, your body releases endorphins and serotonin which are feel-good chemicals. These chemicals improve your mood, reduce stress and symptoms of mental health conditions and also help with recovery from mental health issues.

Similarly, the types of food we eat can also impact our mental health and capacity to cope with this difficult situation. When we experience emotional distress, our brain craves sugar and fat. Sugar releases the ‘happy’ hormone serotonin which also promotes the ‘reward’ hormone dopamine which encourages us to eat more sugar! Our energy then quickly rises and crashes which makes it difficult to deal with stress and challenges. Unfortunately, bad sugar and fat also reduces the development of BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) protein which reduces our ability to learn.


Simple Ways You Can Improve your Activity, Mood and Mental Health

While this current situation presents a number of challenges, and it may seem harder to motivate yourself to eat well and exercise, committing to this can improve your overall mood, wellbeing and ability to cope. Here are some simple things you can do.

  • Walk around when you’re on the phone
  • Find a ledge or stack of books to set up a standing desk to work from for a period
  • When tidying up, put items away in small trips rather than taking it all together
  •  Join a virtual exercise class
  • Get your colleagues involved in the push up challenge
  • Get to bed earlier and stick to a bedtime routine
  • Eat more clean food and less processed food
  •  Reduce your caffeine and alcohol consumption
  • Drink more water

For more information on the benefits of exercise and how much exercise should you be doing, please visit  Health Direct Australia.


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