Exercise is the easiest way to improve your mental health
GETTING active is one of the simplest and most effective ways to boost your mental health.
There is lots of evidence now that exercising on a regular basis comes with a whole host of benefits to our wellbeing. Physically, exercise strengthens our organs, bones and muscles, improves our immunity and protects us against illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
Mentally, exercise helps to protect us against stress, improves self-esteem and helps us to manage our emotions.
Research has also shown that regular exercise is as effective as antidepressants in the treatment of depression. This is because exercise stimulates the release of natural brain chemicals that help us to feel better. These include: dopamine, which has been linked to a sense of reward and improved motivation; serotonin, which helps us to feel happier and better able to cope with difficulties; and noradrenaline which has been linked to improved concentration and alertness.
Regular exercise has also been shown to improve our sleep patterns, helping to combat fatigue and give us more energy.
There is also lots of research that shows how exercise is good for the brain. Our brains are neuroplastic which means that throughout our lives, our brains have the ability to change and grow based on our experiences.
Regular exercise improves brain function by promoting this plasticity and creating new neural pathways within the brain. This means exercise improves learning, memory and attention and helps us to be more creative. It also helps protect against dementia by helping to build and maintain new brain cells.
There’s no escaping the fact that exercise is good for our mental health. However, there are lots of things that can prevent you from maintaining a regular exercise routine. Practical barriers such as not having enough time or money, or psychological barriers such as feeling too tired, stressed or a lack of confidence can all get in the way.
Research has shown that we are more likely to stick to an exercise routine if we are doing something we enjoy. So why not try a new physical activity or sport and see if you can find your own exercise passion?
For lots more information about the benefits of exercise and ideas and inspiration to get you started, visit nhs.uk/live-well/exercise
Dr Ellie Milby is a counselling psychologist
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