Ex­er­cise is the eas­i­est way to im­prove your men­tal health

Gloucestershire Echo - - HEALTH & LIFESTYLE - WITH DR EL­LIE MILBY

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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