As a rule, we are generally educated separately about physical and mental health. In school, we attend physical education classes where we worked out and played sports. Yes, this was always considered the best part of the day for most kids. To learn about mental health however, we would have to take a course in psychology. Generally speaking, this only came around much later in life, oftentimes in university. Naturally, this leads to many misconceptions about the link, if any, between physical and mental health.
What we are not told, in many cases, is how complementary these two seemingly opposite forms of activity are. Physical activity is important for a healthy mind, and a healthy mind is important to provide the foundation for good physical exercise.
In this article we’re going to talk about how physical activity can be useful for helping improve mental health and how it can even prevent some mental health problems.
How can physical activity affect mental health?
Not everyone who goes out for a jog in the morning does it because they want to keep their heart healthy. Surely you’ve heard of the runner’s high. The runner’s high is a biological and psychological phenomenon that occurs after a person goes for a run or engages in any form of high-intensity exercise for a long enough time.
The runner’s high tends to provide people with a long-lasting sense of well-being for the rest of the day. They are less anxious, have less anxiety, are more motivated, and generally have a better self-image than people who don’t exercise whatsoever.
In fact, it has been shown that depressed people who live sedentary lifestyles (meaning that they don’t exercise at all) are able to treat their depression by beginning a healthy exercise routine. Maintaining their exercise routines makes them less likely to fall back into depressive habits, as well.
Exercise helps the brain create new brain cells, release endorphins (messenger compounds that encourage feelings of happiness and wellbeing), reduce inflammation, and develop healthy patterning. All of these things can be immensely beneficial for helping to improve mental health and prevent the development of mental problems.
Does exercise always work?
That said, exercise isn’t necessarily going to be the end-all approach for helping people improve their mental health. Exercise should be considered more of a preventative, meaning that it could help to prevent the development of conditions like anxiety but won’t necessarily fix them if they’re already serious enough.
In the case that you’re struggling with a serious condition or that exercise isn’t helping as much as you’d like it to, you should see a counselor or a therapist, which can be done online. These individuals are trained specifically to help people manage mental health issues, and they will be able to offer you the support that you need.