The conversation around mental health is becoming more and more common. In 2018 around 4.8million Australians reported experiencing a mental health or behavioural condition (ABS, 2018). To continue this conversation, this article is going to discuss the important role exercise has in our mental health. Mental health is complex and, although exercise isn't solely responsible for managing our mental health, it can be a very important tool.
Our mental health is our psychological and emotional well-being. It is an incredibly important part of our overall health. It influences how we think, feel and act. It also plays a direct role in how we handle stress, connect and communicate.
Some of the different ways exercise plays a role and benefiting and managing your mental health include:
1. Circadian Rhythm and Routine
Our circadian rhythm is our physical, mental and behavioural changes that follow a 24-hour cycle. This rhythm works as a signal for our hormones.
Have you ever woken up from a bad night's sleep and felt irritable, down or just foggy? When we deprive our body of its optimal cycle of moving during the day, and resting at night it wreaks havoc with our hormones playing a role in us feeling less than optimal.
If we do our best to move our bodies during the day, whether that be an exercise class, a walk or dancing in the kitchen it helps us to rest and recover at night. In short, exercise and movement can help regulate our circadian rhythm, hormone production and wellbeing.
2. Feel Good Hormones
Dopamine: A hormone responsible for pleasure, mood and motivation.
Endorphins: both relieves pain and creates a general feeling of well-being.
In the short term, when we move our bodies and exercise, this stimulates our brain's reward centres and increases our levels of Dopamine and Endorphins.
Over time regular exercise has also been shown to remodel our rewards system, increasing circulating levels of dopamine.
In short, exercise can help our mental health, both short and long term, through it's effect on our hormones.
3. Self Efficacy and Confidence
How we perceive ourselves plays a big part in our mental wellbeing.
Exercise can play a really important (and rewarding) role in improving our self efficacy. There is a great sense of achievement that follows beating a personal best, getting a new skill or simply being able to move more freely.
As we improve our capacity and function through exercise, our self efficacy improves alongside
4. Social and Meaningful Engagement
Exercise doesn't have to be something you fret doing. There are endless modes of exercise and settings to suit what you feel most comfortable doing.
Finding a mode that's enjoyable for you can help create a positive relationship with exercise. Exercise can be a social occasion like a group class with friends, or it can be meditative like a nice walk along the beach.
This positive associating can play an important role in helping us establish something that's meaningful for us.
If you are going through a tough time, or are using this article for education, I hope you are able to take some of this information to apply to your own day to day life. Remember to start small and appreciate the little wins. A 5 minute walk is still 5 minutes more than you would have done otherwise.
If you or anyone you know is suffering with mental health concerns please don't hesitate to reach out. Outlined below are some great resources:
Beyond Blue Support Services (http://www.beyondblue.org.au/get-support/get-immediate-support)
Australian Government: Head to Health (https://headtohealth.gov.au/)
Butterfly Foundation (http://thebutterflyfoundation.org.au/)
Or talk to one of our accredited Exercise Physiologists to help you with an exercise plan to support and improve your confidence and mental health. Call us on 5456 1599 to make an appointment.