Mental Health and Physical Activity

It is a well-known fact that physical activity can have positive health benefits on your body. Aerobic activity, for example long distance running or cycling, is known to strengthen your heart and lungs and circulate blood throughout your body, delivering oxygenated blood to your vital organs and muscles. Yoga, or other flexibility related exercises, help to prevent injuries to muscles, bones, tendons, and ligaments, as well as improve your overall ability to complete daily activities like brushing your hair or reaching the zipper on the back of your clothes, or putting on your shoes. What a lot of people do not know though, is that physical activity and exercise have a positive impact on your mental health as well. In fact, physical activity can have a tremendous impact on your mental health and wellbeing.

The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP) recommends that adults do at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each week, with each session lasting at least 10 minutes. They recommend this be paired with muscle strengthening twice per week. This moderate to vigorous physical activity is meant to noticeably raise your heart rate and circulate blood to all of your organs, including your brain. When we do this regularly, our muscles and organs continue to grow stronger and stronger, and continue to receive oxygenated blood and excrete toxins and waste. The longer and more consistently you stick with your exercises, the more benefits you will end up seeing.

Regular physical activity can prevent depression and anxiety (and may be as effective as psychological and pharmaceutical treatments), reduce stress, reduce the risk of cognitive decline and boost cognitive ability, boost academic performance, increase reports of happiness, reduce feelings of fatigue, improve sleep, and boost self-esteem. This is just a small list of the positive mental health benefits that physical activity can contribute to. There are a number of suspected reasons why these results come about from regular exercise programming:

• Physical activity increases your body’s production of Endorphins and Endocannabinoids; chemicals that help you to relax, feel more pleasure, feel less pain, and reduce the amount of stress hormones (cortisol) that your body is producing.
• Regular physical activity helps to increase self-esteem and self-efficacy, and even short bursts of physical activity can make you happier in the moment by halting negative trains of thought.
• People who exercise regularly tend to have larger social networks and stronger relationships. The regular face to face interactions that come from exercising in pairs/groups can boost your mood and prevent depression and feelings of loneliness.
• Physical activity encourages your brain to use and produce more dopamine and serotonin, which are chemicals produced in your brain to make you feel happy.
• Regular physical activity increases the blood flow to the brain, which in turn allows for better brain functioning, and can also lead to an increase in brain matter in some areas.

It is important to schedule regular physical activity into your day. People who make an effort to schedule in time to exercise are more likely to adhere to it and reap the benefits of doing regular physical activity. It is important to take care of your mental health and regular physical activity and exercise is a great way to do so!

Jessica Catto
The Township of Huron-Kinloss
November 13, 2018

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