The Benefits of Movement for Mental Health & Wellbeing

The Benefits of Movement for Mental Health & Wellbeing


Avoiding a sedentary lifestyle is one of the most important choices you can make to look after your body and reduce the risk of chronic physical disease. But did you know that keeping active is just as important for your mental health as it is your physical wellness? Exercise is one of the most effective ways to nurture your mental wellbeing. Read on to learn more about the amazing benefits of movement for mental health.


What is Parity of Esteem and Why Does it Matter?

Put simply, parity of esteem is the concept that mental health is equally important to physical health[1]. Accepting this is crucial for anyone who suffers with mental ill-health, not only to squander the stigma surrounding mental health conditions but also to ensure you seek help as and when it is needed – just as you would with a physical illness.

Even for those who consider themselves to not suffer from any mental ailment, it is important to take proactive measures to look after your mind just as you do your body – with physical activity being one of the most effective ways of doing so.


Mental & Physical Wellbeing Work in Synergy


Mental and physical health are intrinsically linked; it’s impossible to have optimal mental health without optimal physical health, and vice versa. Psychiatrist Georgia Ede explains this eloquently in her quote “studies have conclusively shown that the brain is in fact part of the human body!”[2]


That is to say that mental wellness is just as much a hallmark of good physical health as say good heart health or the absence of chronic physical disease. Equally, poor mental health can directly impact your physical health[3] – weight gain, sleeplessness and self-neglect are all good examples of how.


The good news is that a healthy body and mind work in synergy and compliment each other. The more you do to look after your body, the more likely it is that your mental wellbeing will improve. One of the simplest, easiest (given practice!) and most effective ways to proactively take your mental health by the reins is to move more.


That doesn’t have to mean training for a marathon or Monday morning bootcamps! Ensuring that you avoid a sedentary lifestyle as much as possible in whichever way works best for you is enough to feel the benefits of exercise for mental health.

How Does Exercise Benefit Mental Health?


Getting enough exercise been consistently proven to be amongst the most impactful lifestyle choices we can make to look after our physical health[4] – as important as a healthy diet and abstaining from harmful habits like smoking and drinking alcohol.


But the benefits of moving more do not just circulate throughout the body and bypass the brain. Remember, the brain is part of the body after all! Let’s take a look at some of the proven benefits of exercise for mental wellbeing.


· Improves Mood


Physical activity triggers the body to release endorphins such as dopamine[5]. Endorphins are commonly referred to as our ‘feel good hormones’ because they do just that – lift our mood and our spirits, just as receiving good news or praise would! Combined with the energising impact of a good workout, endorphins can have a profoundly positive impact on mood.


· Boosts Brain Performance & Cognition


The same endorphins released when we exercise also help to boost cognition and instil mental clarity. These neurotransmitters help to improve memory, enhance focus and stimulate the growth of new brain cells. Studies have shown that this can improve brain processing speed and even reduce the risk of age-related cognitive decline[6].


· Increases Energy Levels & Fights Fatigue


If you are feeling tired or suffer with fatigue and lack of energy, then it may seem contradictory to exercise and burn more energy. However, a sedentary lifestyle can be one of the key driving forces for fatigue and moving more is often the solution rather than the problem.


Exercise immediately increases circulation and our heart rate, which triggers the release of energy from the body. Over time and as you move more often and it becomes part of your healthy routine, you will feel the lasting effects of increased endurance and stamina not just when working out but throughout the day.


· Reduces Stress & Alleviates Anxiety


Exercise is a great way to combat the physical symptoms of stress such as agitation, muscle tension and headaches. Physical activity helps the body to process stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol frequently, reducing the risk of chronic stress over time[7].


Studies have shown that exercise can be an effective adjuvant therapy for those who suffer with anxiety[8], helping to instil mindfulness and distract the mind away from negative thoughts as well as reducing the physical signs of anxiety such as tremor and agitation.


· Nurtures Social Connections


One of the indirect benefits of exercise for mental wellness is social connectivity. As humans we are hardwired to thrive in a community[9], something which is all too often lost in the modern world of digital anonymity.


Exercising with others – whether that’s a team sport or a leisurely walk with a neighbour – is a great way to nurture social connections and maintain community in the modern world.


· Improves Self Esteem


Last but certainly not least, physical activity is a great way to boost self-esteem. Not only will an active and healthy lifestyle support improved body image, but it is also a really effective way to stay focused on something positive which gives you a frequent sense of achievement and purposefulness. It is also a healthy way to work through negative emotions and thoughts, in a way which supports your overall health.


It’s clear to see the potential for exercise to improve mental wellbeing and even alleviate some of the milder symptoms of mental health conditions. By incorporating as much movement into your everyday you can look after your mental and physical health in synergy, bolstering body and mind for whatever

[1]https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/p/parity-esteem

[2]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TXlVfwJ6RQU

[3]https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/p/physical-health-and-mental-health

[4]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4241367/

[5]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC474733/

[6]https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1559827610374413

[7]https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/related-illnesses/other-related-conditions/stress/physical-activity-reduces-st

[8]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3632802/

[9]https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-018-0389-1



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