A Path to Improved Mental Health and Well-being
I was absolutely delighted and celebrated when this article was released in July 2023 supporting the benefits of exercise for better mental health and depression.
“The research, which followed more than 4,000 Irish adults with an average age of 61 for a decade, found that if adults suffering from the conditions linked to depression exercised at least 20 minutes a day, five times a week, their symptoms improved.” (New York Post, July 10 2023).
I know the benefits of exercise for my own mental health - the way I felt my mood lift as my heart rate lifted. The way I felt “lighter” after a brisk walk on the beach. The ways I felt more confident after a weight training session in the gym. But HOW do I prove that exercise is a mood booster for all? I don’t have to now that the experts have been able to show this.
In a world where mental health struggles are increasingly prevalent, the correlation between physical activity and mental well-being has become a focal point of interest. Studies consistently highlight the profound impact movement has on alleviating symptoms of depression and enhancing overall mental health. This blog explores the multifaceted benefits of movement for mental well-being, supported by scientific references, while offering practical tips to initiate a more active lifestyle.
The Link Between Movement and Mental Health
Exercise stimulates the release of the hormones endorphins, serotonin and dopamine that act as natural mood elevators, reducing feelings of stress and anxiety. Movement also enhances the neurotransmitters in the brain that allow for faster and clearer thought patterns, improved agility mentally and physically and improved cognitive function and brain structure. AND exercise is linked to improved sleep patterns which are essential for maintaining mental health.
According to a review by the Harvard Medical School exercise has been shown to be as effective as medication in certain cases of mild to moderate depression.
How to Get Started
If exercise isn’t in your arsenal of tools to support your mental health and boost your mood, here’s how you can get started:
- Start Small: Begin with short walks, gentle stretches, or basic yoga poses to gradually build up stamina and confidence.
- Set Realistic Goals: Set achievable goals that align with your current fitness level to avoid feelings of overwhelm.
- Find Enjoyable Activities: Experiment with various forms of exercise – dancing, hiking, swimming, or team sports – to find what brings you joy.
- Consistency is Key: Aim for consistency rather than intensity. Even short, regular bouts of activity can yield mental health benefits.
Types of Movement to Support Mental Health
- Aerobic Exercise: Running, cycling, or swimming can significantly elevate mood by releasing endorphins.
- Yoga and Tai Chi: These practices combine movement with mindfulness, promoting relaxation and stress reduction.
- Strength Training: Weightlifting and resistance exercises not only build physical strength but also foster mental resilience. Read more about strength training.
- Dance and Movement Therapy: Engaging in expressive movement can be therapeutic, aiding in emotional release and self-expression.
Honestly, it’s not so much the type of exercise that you choose, but that you find something that does give you a mood boost and that you recognise that and stay with it. Incorporating regular movement into daily life can be a powerful tool for enhancing mental health and combating depression. Scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports the positive impact of physical activity on our psychological well-being. Start small, set goals and stay consistent to foster a healthier mind and more vibrant life.
Want more tips like this? Read my other guest posts on the Nature's Help blog here.
- Craft, L. L., & Perna, F. M. (2004). The Benefits of Exercise for the Clinically Depressed. The Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 6(3), 104–111.
- Harvard Health Publishing. (2018). Exercise is an all-natural treatment to fight depression.
- Mammen, G., & Faulkner, G. (2013). Physical activity and the prevention of depression: A systematic review of prospective studies. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 45(5), 649–657.
Remember, it's essential to consult a healthcare professional before starting any new exercise regimen, especially if you have pre-existing health conditions or concerns regarding your mental health.
Written by Tracy Minnoch-Nuku
Tracy Minnoch-Nuku (B.Ph.Ed - Otago, NZ and MBA, Vic, Melb.) is an educated and experienced advocate for women's health and fitness. With over 30 years in the fitness industry, Tracy began her career as a Group Fitness Teacher and Personal Trainer where she transformed bodies and lives through fitness and nutrition. Tracy spent 20 years developing teams and fitness training programs in Asia - live, online and through fitness apps. Tracy’s own experience with menopause was messy. Without any prior warning, her symptoms began to accelerate and negatively impacted on her physical and mental health, work life and relationships. Tracy documents all of her symptoms and experiences in her book “My Menopause Memoir” as well as through her highly acclaimed podcast “Sexy Ageing”.
Learn more about Tracy HERE