OPINION | You should exercise to improve your mental health
We have all had those thoughts. Athletics have never been our thing. We have better things to do than spend an hour at the gym. We aren't totally unhappy with our clothing size at the moment.
These are only a few reasons why people do not maintain exercise as a necessary part of their schedule. Excuses for neglecting physical activity can always be found because physical appearance is not always the greatest motivator. In today’s culture, confidence in one’s body type and shape is championed. Even disease prevention is not the best motivator because, most of the time, it takes the doctor’s orders to spark the initiative.
However, exercising one’s body has unequivocal yet often overlooked benefits on one’s mental state. According to an article published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information, exercise greatly improves mental health.
“Some of these proposed psychological benefits are improved confidence,…anxiety reduction and positive effects on depressed mood and intellectual functioning,” the article said.
According to a Mayo Clinic article, endorphins are the main force behind activity’s effect on mental health. The article describes endorphins as neurological chemicals that heighten a person’s feelings of happiness and contentment. When your body exerts itself physically, it naturally releases these chemicals, combating depression and anxiety.
Another biochemical release is serotonin. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), serotonin is the end goal of antidepressants. This chemical is another force the brain can use to fight chronic depression when a body is consistently active.
Regular exercise can also calm a person’s propensity for panic. According to APA writer Kirsten Weir, the body undergoes similar sensations when exercising as when it is put in a fight-or-flight situation. These feelings may include sweating, increased pulse and greater respiration. People who expose themselves to these conditions regularly would be less likely to experience paralyzing alarm when faced with a sudden stressor.
While exercise is essential for a holistic lifestyle, it can also be taken too far. According to Time Magazine, physical activity can have a detrimental effect when it becomes an obsession, as with anything not used in moderation. Time offered analysis by Adam Chekroud, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale University.
“Some people get obsessed with exercise, and some people run themselves into the ground,” Chekroud said. “You can definitely see why someone who’s exercising a lot, or maybe obsessively, might have worse mental health.”
The article explained a study in which people that exercised for a conservative amount of time were more mentally healthy than those who consistently exercised in a marathon-style manner. The results prove that balance is the key to reaping the full benefits of physical activity.
Another obstacle to exercise’s battle of mental health is the fact that people may not be maintaining a realistic perspective. According to the APA, when people idealize a short time frame to see physical results, they can set themselves up for disappointment. Physical results take time and effort.
However, the APA article states that a slight shift in perspective can make all the difference. Professor of psychology at Boston University Dr. Michael Otto said the benefit of pushing onward past disenchantment can lead to a better reward.
“Many people skip the workout at the very time it has the greatest payoff,” Otto said. “That prevents you from noticing just how much better you feel when you exercise.”
The will to start, the endurance to keep going and the patience to do one’s best are the keys to making exercise work for mental health. The mind can engage in plenty of tactics to prevent one from engaging the body, but they are ultimately detrimental to all aspects of a person.
If you live in a constant struggle with your mood and your mind, taking one small step—literally—can be the key to a breakthrough.