Exercise has long been known to have numerous physical benefits, such as improving cardiovascular health, increasing strength and endurance, and maintaining a healthy weight. However, the benefits of exercise extend far beyond just physical health, with numerous studies demonstrating its importance for reducing stress and improving mental health.
Exercise and Stress
Stress is a common experience for most people, and when it is prolonged, it can have negative effects on both physical and mental health. Those with high levels of stress tend to have a weakened immune system and become more susceptible to viral illnesses and infections such as the flu. Stress hormones can also cause your blood pressure to rise, increasing your risks of a stroke or heart attack. Additionally, under stress, your liver produces more glucose in an attempt to give you a surge of energy. This means chronic stress may increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Fortunately, exercise has been shown to be a highly effective tool for reducing stress levels, with regular physical activity helping to lower cortisol and adrenaline levels in the body.
Exercise has also been shown to be effective in improving overall mental health, particularly in the treatment of depression and anxiety.
Exercise and Depression
Since the 1900s, many studies have shown that exercise can effectively alleviate symptoms of mild to moderate depression. "For some people it works as well as antidepressants” says Dr. Michael Craig Miller, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. One study found that in a group of moderately depressed individuals, those who were assigned to carry out exercise 3 times a week for 6 weeks had the most alleviated symptoms in comparison to the other groups.
Regular exercise helps to treat depression due to the way in which activity spurs the release of proteins which support nerve cell growth in the hippocampus. This improvement in brain function is what can make you feel better. Exercise also releases endorphins, powerful chemicals in your brain that make you feel good. 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. Furthermore, regular exercise can improve self-esteem and provide a sense of accomplishment, which can be especially beneficial for those struggling with depression.
Research also suggests that the benefits of exercise may be long lasting. In 1999, a study found that a group of depressed adults who took part in a fitness program displayed significantly greater improvements in depression, even in the 12-month follow-up period.
Exercise and Anxiety
Similarly, exercise can be a useful strategy for managing and alleviating anxiety. When you increase your heart rate during exercise, your brain chemistry changes. Anti-anxiety neurochemicals become more available such as serotonin endocannabinoids (the body’s natural cannabis!). Exercise also increases blood flow to the frontal lobes in your brain. This helps to control the amygdala, which is the part of your brain responsible for the flight or fight response. In addition, exercise provides an opportunity to practise mindfulness, which can help to quiet the mind and reduce anxious thoughts.
Here at WeGym, We understand that exercise or heading to the gym can be daunting, particularly for those who suffer with anxiety. Working with one of our friendly trainers can be a great way to tackle this. They can create a regime specifically tailored to you and can help you start slow; you won’t need to think about a thing. Your confidence and fitness levels will grow in no time. If you prefer, your trainer can come to your home to make you feel even more comfortable, or you can even have your sessions online.
Exercise and ADHD
Regular exercise has also been shown to have numerous benefits for individuals with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Exercise immediately increases dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the brain which are neurotransmitters that regulate attention, mood, and motivation. Exercise is also a great outlet for excess energy, helping to reduce hyperactivity and impulsivity in individuals with ADHD.
Other Mental Health Benefits of Exercise
Even if you’re not suffering from a mental health problem, regular exercise can still provide a welcome boost to your overall well-being and quality of life.
Exercise can help to:
The same endorphins that make you feel better also help you concentrate and stay focused. Exercise also stimulates the growth of new brain cells and helps prevent age-related cognitive decline.
With regular exercise, you'll feel better about yourself and your appearance and by meeting even small exercise goals you'll feel a sense of achievement.
Exercise can help regulate your sleep patterns. Relaxing exercises such as yoga or gentle stretching in the evening is also great to help promote sleep.
Increasing your heart rate and having an increased release of feel-good endorphins will help you feel more uplifted and energised.
The Benefits of Exercising Outside
Exercising outside can provide a multitude of benefits for your mental health. Fresh air, sunshine, and exposure to nature have been scientifically proven to improve mood, increase energy levels, and reduce stress and anxiety.
This is something we are incredibly passionate about at WeGym, which is why many of our expert personal trainers offer to come to your local park or outdoor space. Or you can even have your sessions in your own garden if you prefer the convenience of staying home.
The Benefits of Exercising With Others
Exercising with others can also have significant mental health benefits. It will not only make the workout more fun and enjoyable, but the sense of community can be just as important as the exercise. For depression in particular, social connection is extremely important to help reduce feelings of loneliness and to improve self esteem.
The beauty of exercising with a WeGym trainer on a regular basis is that a connection can be built and they can also become a friend. With WeGym you can also workout with a friend or in a small group with your trainer.
How Much Exercise Is Needed To Reap These Benefits?
You don’t have to be a fitness fanatic to reap the benefits. According to the NHS, adults should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week. This can be broken down into just 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, five days a week, or 25 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise, three days a week.
Get started with WeGym
Training with a personal trainer is a great way to get started and maintain your motivation. With WeGym you can choose to work out with an expert trainer either in the comfort of your own home or in an outdoor space near you. No matter your level of fitness or strength, your trainer will tailor your sessions to suit you. Your confidence and self esteem will be built in no time.
Get in touch with us today to find out more or to book your first HALF PRICE session.
It is important to note that while exercise can be an effective tool for reducing stress and improving mental health, it should not be used as a replacement for professional treatment for mental health conditions. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety, it is important to seek professional help from a qualified mental health professional.