Australians recently marked ‘R U OK? Day’ as the national day of action held in September each year, aimed at encouraging people to start a meaningful conversation in an attempt to help those who may be struggling with their mental health.
While it’s important to shine the spotlight on this issue annually, at Planet Fitness, we believe that any day is a chance to start exercising and not only bettering your physical self but in particular your mental health.
For decades researchers have studied and shared their findings about physical exercise and a healthy diet, linking both to overall physical wellbeing. As research develops, the links between physical activity and mental health grow stronger, with the common belief that with a healthy body, comes a healthy mind. With mental illness’ affecting 4,000,000 Australians, and with eight Australians taking their own lives every day, the issue of Australia’s mental health status is something that needs to be of a focal point for not only the government but also at an intrapersonal level. This can all be started by learning the benefits of healthy living on the brain and mind, and then putting it into practice.
When looking at past research about physical exercise and psychological health, it is important to look at the individual, their lifestyle, and implementing a health plan that targets not only their fitness and skill level but something that caters for their personal needs.
For instance, say you are an individual who is just beginning to exercise or are elderly then low-intensity activities such as walking, swimming, and bike riding will provide important psychological benefits, as well supporting ageing, reducing coronary heart disease, improving functional loss, and increasing overall life expectancy.
Due to the cross morbidity of some physical illness with mental health problems,
the inclusion of physical exercise might also be a means to minimise the symptoms
of the original physical health problem.
One study looked at 3,403 participants both male and female (aged between 25-64), who had completed a risk factor survey, along with an “exercise habits and perceived health” questionnaire. The results of the study suggested that if you exercise at least two to three times a week for a minimum of an hour, you are more likely to experience significantly less depressive symptoms, anger, and stress than those who are exercising less or not at all.
Furthermore, the individuals who did exercise acknowledged that they had higher levels of coherence, and a stronger feeling of social integration, along with overall higher confidence in self and self-perception. This feeling of joining a community is a driving force behind combatting mental health in all areas, due to this feeling of self-worth and purpose, by surrounding yourself with people with a common goal, and helping motivate each other to live longer healthier and overall more positive lives.
This includes the possibility of alcoholism and substance abuse in individuals who experience anxiety or depression, and use such substances as a means of dealing with the psychosocial disorder. Further studies have been conducted to see if there are improvements in substance abuse when regular exercise routines are introduced into individual’s lives. In one particular study, 58 male and females with alcohol abuse problems, participated in a fitness program for three months. Results showed that after the three-month program there was a significant improvement in abstinence when compared with control groups.
So as a nation what are we doing? There are so many actions that we can do to improve those statistics, and re-shape mental health to a positive outcome. If we target this as a community, ask each other on a daily basis ‘are you okay?’, and then focus on both the intrapersonal and interpersonal level of our mental health, by incorporating healthy living into our lives, then positivity and uplifted mindset is just the beginning of a better future.