29 July 2020
Can keeping fit really improve your mental health?
We are conditioned to understand the direct benefit that exercise can have on our fitness levels, but it’s also important to know about the additional benefits that exercise has on our bodies.
The current global coronavirus pandemic has meant that many of us have had to deal with more difficult times and a lot of us have felt at our lowest. However, if you’ve continued to, or have taken up regular exercise over the last few months, it may have allowed you to push yourself and keep your body and brain active.
Physical activity has a huge potential to improve your mental health. Even something as short as a ten-minute walk can improve mental alertness, energy and your mood. If you take part in physical activity regularly, this can increase your self-esteem and help to reduce stress and anxiety. Something we all need at a time like this! It also plays a role in preventing the development of mental health issues and improving quality of life for anyone experiencing mental health problems.
Your workout can be anything you want it to be, whether you prefer weight training, jogging or playing sports, exercise is meant to be fun whilst helping to improve your wellbeing.
A study by the British Journal of Occupational Therapy found that those who had participated in some sort of physical activity felt more alert, content and calmer with themselves compared to those who hadn’t. The same study also found that those who took part in physical activity when they started to feel low reported that they felt more productive afterwards.
There are many studies that look at the different levels of physical activity and how it impacts on a person’s mental wellbeing. Overall, research has found that low-intensity aerobic exercise is the best option when it comes to increasing positive moods, as long as you do it regularly for at least half an hour at a time.
To back up the various reports, there is also scientific evidence to suggest that exercise directly improves your mental health. Physical activity releases feel-good hormones called endorphins. Endorphins interact with the receptors in your brain that reduce your perception of pain. This hormone also triggers a positive feeling in your body, similar to that of morphine. This is the ‘euphoric’ feeling you often get after a physical activity, for example a ‘runners high’ can be accompanied by a positive and energising outlook on life.
Here are some exercise tips to help you get the most out of your workout:
- Listening to your favourite music during exercise can help you feel more motivated
- Post workout, slow music can help your body recover, helping your blood pressure and heart rate revert back to normal
- Switch up your workout routine. Constantly doing the same routine also doesn’t benefit your body as much, compared to a varied exercise program. Instagram and YouTube are a great free resource for workout inspiration, with different programmes to follow and plenty of helpful tips
- If you’re new to regular exercise, limit your workouts to 30-40 minutes to stop your body from feeling worn out. The benefits of working out tend to drop slightly if you work out for an hour or more. It’s best to work out at a higher intensity for a shorter amount of time.
It’s not just staying active that can improve your mood but eating healthy food as well. What we eat and drink can affect how we feel, think and behave. Just like our other vital organs such as the heart, our brain is an organ that requires different amounts of nutrients to remain healthy. Some essential vitamins and minerals include, vitamin C, vitamin B6, folic acid and zinc. These nutrients have been found to affect the deficiency of many different mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, poor memory to include just a few.
If you don’t already, foods such as vegetables, wholegrains, bananas, nuts and fish would be worth adding to your meal plan if you’re looking for ingredients to give an instant benefit to your mental health. Studies have found those who have a higher intake of foods with saturated fat and refined carbohydrates have been linked to having poorer mental health.
If you’ve never created your own meal plan before, a good place to start is by making a menu of meals that you could eat throughout the day. Pick what recipes you’ll make for breakfast, lunch and dinner. There are also thousands of examples of meal plans online that you could take inspiration from.
As well as helping you to keep track of what you’re eating, meal plans are also a great way to save money. Check out our previous blog on the importance of meal planning to save money and time here.
Keeping fit with a balanced diet can also improve your sleep. By taking regular exercise you feel more tired at the end of the day, resulting in a better night’s sleep and helping you feel more prepared for the day ahead, ultimately improving your mood. We need a good night’s sleep in order to function as healthy human beings. However, taking exercise earlier in the day will stop you from feeling too alert later in the evenings.