By age 40, about 50% of the Canadian population will have or have had a mental illness.
Everyone knows someone that has been affected by this. Being active is the number one thing you can do to change your overall health and it is no surprise that it helps your mental health too. Many studies have shown that simple activities such as walking are more effective in treating depression and anxiety than taking conventional medications. This blog will answer the questions of why you should use exercise to better your mental health, how to get motivated and how to stick to it.
How Exercise Helps Mental illness
Amazing chemical changes occur in our brain when we exercise. Physical activity immediately boosts the brain’s dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels—all of which affect focus and attention, improves mood, and brain circulation. In this way, exercise works in much the same way as medications such as anti-depressants, relaxants, Ritalin and Adderall. Exercise helps balance out these neurotransmitters and give us an overall improved positive attitude.
Exercise also promotes improved circulation and chemical changes in the brain that promote growth of nerve cells. This has direct impact for people with ADHD due to improved memory, mental clarity, and overall mood. Studies suggest that a tough workout increases levels of a brain-derived protein (known as BDNF) in the body, believed to help with decision making, higher thinking and learning.
As well as releasing endorphins in the brain, physical activity helps to relax the muscles and relieve tension in the body. Since the body and mind are so closely linked, when your body feels better so, too, will your mind. Getting your muscles working helps to break the cycle of tension created by stress and anxiety.
Exercise is also an injection of self confidence for most people. When you accomplish climbing that hill or looking at a weed free garden, a smile comes onto your face. Loosing pounds from working out also leaves a person feeling excited and proud.
How to Get Started
The first thing you need to know is that exercise doesn't just mean going to a gym and lifting weights and sweating half to death on a treadmill. Studies show that one of the most effective form of exercise for depression is simply going for a walk outdoors. Exercise can be light activities such as gardening, cleaning the house, mowing the lawn, climbing stairs, and even fishing!
Another important fact is that you don't need to exercise for hours at a time or even every day. A recent large study published in The Lancet Psychiatry showed that exercising 45 minutes, 3 to five times a week is the sweet spot for the amount of exercise needed. Exercise performed in a team sport environment had the best results. Research also shows that short boughts of exercise, even 15 minutes at a time, still can have a significant impact on depression and anxiety.
How to Stick to it
Get yourself an exercise buddy and you will motivate each other to get active. Together, set goals for the week, for the month and for the year and have a reward for each goal reached.Goal setting needs to be gradual and realistic. Start small and build up. If you don’t achieve the goal re-evaluate and keep things flexible.
Keep it simple and do exercises that you like. If you hate running don't go out and buy a treadmill and end up using it for a clothing rack.
Get yourself an exercise tracker. It's amazing how those little electronic watches can motivate you to get up and get your steps in. You can go online with most of these devices and set up exercise challenges with your family or friends.
Track your mood. Journal and write down how you feel on a day that you exercise and log what you did and how much you did. Find out what is an ideal length of time for you to exercise. This method will also help you realize when you are having a bad day that the best thing to do is to get out and move!
Activity fact: playing sports 4 times a week decreases psychological stress by 47%