Mental health problems is one of the world’s modern pandemics, as it becomes the 3rd leading cause of chronic health problems in youth with the leading cause of death for 15–24-year-olds. Mental health affects how we think, feel and act, determining our daily choices.
Exercise is known to not only improve mental health and wellbeing but reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and negative mood swings through improving function and self belief. By improving these aspects there can be noticeable improvements in sleep, daily task performance and ability to concentrate. There have been multiple studies showing the relationship between regular exercise and reduced frequency of depression and anxiety attacks/episodes.
The immune system, physiological and psychological
Improvements in mental health come from three underlying levels: the immune system, physiological and psychological. The immune system has a rolling on effect from the cytokines to the vagal nerve stimulation, which impacts the regulation of body compartments during rest via the parasympathetic nervous system. When this is not functioning properly it results in a heightened stress response which can lead to issues such as gut problems, inflammation, and anxiety/depression.
Physiologically, there are improvements in endorphins resulting in a change in neurotransmitters in the HPA axis. The HPA axis or hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis is a complex set of direct influences and feedback interactions that can change your thoughts and emotions. Exercise releases endorphins and serotonin which lead to improvements in your mood.
Psychologically there are improvements via self-efficacy and self-belief as well as ideas as simple as brain distraction. This allows the body/brain to focus on something completely different to outside life, therefore, resulting in a period of time where the individual is not thinking about something that makes them upset. Overall, this helps to cope with depression. As well as this, feeling the accomplishment after a workout or seeing yourself progress towards a goal are more benefits of exercise that contribute to a healthy mind.
Exercise as medicine
Exercise has been proven to be just as effective as medications for a few psychological disorders. Single bouts of exercise also reduce daily stress and improve sleep quality. To receive these benefits, you should aim to meet the Australian Physical Activity Guidelines of at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days of the week. This should be a type of exercise you enjoy and can maintain in the long term. possesses the skills, knowledge and ability to perform to the organisational standards and in a competent manner.
Key messages to take away include
- Increased evidence demonstrating the effectiveness of exercise in improving well-being and self-perceptions
- Exercises reduces comorbidities such as heart disease, obesity and diabetes which are strongly associated with psychological disorders
- Some exercise is always better than nothing!