Exercise: the mental health panacea!?
Most of us are aware that exercise will help our physical health. We know increasing our heart rate a few times a week will reduce the risk of heart attacks, give us better lung health and have many more physical benefits. But it should always be remembered that the mind is a physical thing too. So what mental health/wellness benefits are there to exercising?
As we have become a more unfit society, rates of depression and anxiety have risen too. Exercise stimulates natural ‘feel good hormones’. Exercise is something that needs a mindful concentration of what is in the moment, and as such can take ruminating thoughts and anxieties away. There’s even some evidence that exercise can be as effective as antidepressants (Evans, April 2016). Exercise can take us out into nature, calm or energise us, which have all been shown to help with depression and anxiety. Furthermore, it has been shown to help in some more chronic mental health conditions as well as being preventative of mental health conditions too.
But how does exercise help so much? Exercise stimulates the brain to grow in parts and increases blood flow and consequently increases the nutrients carried by the blood. It also allows more flexible thinking through the effects on the hippocampus (Reynolds, February 2017). Flexible thinking is a big part of remaining mentally healthy.
So, go ahead and make yourself better, or keep well, with a few brisk walks this week.