Often exercise is promoted for all of its physical health benefits which are amazing and endless, but strangely overlooked is the benefit to our mental health. One in five Australians surveyed experienced symptoms of a mental disorder over a twelve-month period, according to beyondblue. Anxiety makes up the largest percentage being 14.1%, affective disorders 6.1% (including 4.1% depression) and substance use disorder making up 5.1% (of which 4.3% is alcohol related).
Exercise helps us to feel better as it stimulates the release of endorphins and serotonin in the brain that improves your mood. Exercising, either in the gym or outside, can help alleviate the feelings of loneliness or isolation, getting you out in the world and many gym programs can have you working out within a group helping you meet new people.
A lot of the time these new friends will help to keep you accountable and also help you to continue to look forward to attending that class, even if you love the good laugh and friendly chat afterwards more than the actual workout.
While exercising, highly oxygenated blood is pumped through the brain helping you to think more clearly. During your session you are also focused on the task at hand, meaning you are present in the moment. You are focused on the next rep, step or movement, which is like an active meditation, helping you forget about the day’s problems at work or that future meeting that you’re dreading. It also increases the connections between nerve cells in the brain. This helps to improve memory and protect your brain against injury and disease.
According to some studies, it has been shown that regular exercise can be as effective as medication in some people, reducing the effects of anxiety and depression. The effects of one vigorous session can last hours, and a regular exercise program may reduce the effects significantly over time.
Exercise can make you feel better even if you’re feeling ok. Exercise also reduces the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, obesity, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
How much exercise should you do? The Australian government guidelines suggest adults aim for 30 minutes of moderate to intense physical exercise per day. Depending on your fitness levels this could vary from a brisk 30-minute walk to a high-intensity interval class. It doesn’t matter what exercise you choose, make it something you really enjoy.
If you find running is not for you, try a group class or a boot camp; maybe team sport is your thing. All are great choices, and you may not find the perfect thing straight away but don’t be afraid to give plenty of new things a try, you just never know what you may like.
Sometimes keeping the motivation can be hard. Motivation comes and goes, but the most dedicated exercisers don’t wait for motivation. They make it a habit; it is a part of what they do daily. Schedule exercise into your routine even if this means waking up 30 minutes earlier, exercising will help you sleep much easier at night as well. As mentioned earlier, group exercise can really benefit consistency; we see a much higher frequency of attendance from those who participate in group fitness activities compared to those who try to “go it alone.” Seek out a good personal trainer even if you can only afford to see them fortnightly or monthly, the thought of checking in with your trainer will keep you sticking to your daily exercise goals. These are just three tips to help get you started and consistent with exercising.
If you notice a mate hasn’t quite been themselves recently, invite them along to your next workout session. Most gyms offer a free pass, and you never know it just may be the very thing they need to help them out of a rough patch.
If you find yourself struggling with mental health issues, we suggest you see your doctor first. Men especially are far less likely to seek help. There are many different avenues of help you can seek help even anonymously if you like. Below are some great mental health services.