There has long been a strong correlation between physical movement and improved mental health. We wrote earlier about how exercise improves anxiety and stress, and there’s strong evidence to show that it’s not just correlation, but also causation. While being physically fit and active does not preclude you from experiencing mental health issues, keeping the body moving is an integral part of treating and sustaining better mental health, improved mood and increased energy levels.
How movement supports the treatment of mental health issues
When we exercise, whether it be a HIIT class or a stroll up the street – whatever increases the heart rate even moderately – blood circulation increases to the brain and takes effect on the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis, which communicates to the limbic system (control centre for moods). Affected too is the amygdala (fear station, responds to stress) and hippocampus (memory, mood and motivation). This built-in ability to improve mental health then supports any other external treatment you may be seeking.
So, that’s all the fun stuff going on in the brain when we exercise. But, what are the real life, added bonus, effects it has, outside of the inner workings of physiology?
Assist with social anxieties
We know the past few years haven’t been ideal for socialising, and whilst that might seem like a dream for those with social anxieties, it can actually exacerbate it (feelings of being even further isolated from others, or not reaching out to people when lockdown got too much. Equally, coming out of lockdown can spike social anxieties; crowds now seem even scarier. However, as we move back into being around others, taking advantage of movement for mental health can also offer a surprising opportunity to connect with people in a less confronting way. Whether it be going for a walk with a friend, joining a niche fitness group or charity-based fitness program (that comfortably suits the environment you’re happy with), having an activity to focus on can take your mind off, or at least ease, the pressures of social situations.
Ability to hold concentration for longer periods of time
Feeling foggy or distracted by mental health issues can pull us away from activities we otherwise love, and even find calm comfort in. This can increase frustration and intensify negative feelings. Something as small as reading a book, meditating, watching a movie or listening to music can suddenly be a stressful experience instead of an enjoyable one. Again, exercise will not cure mental health issues for a lot of people. But, the improved blood flow to the brain clears the ‘fog’ a little, offering a greater capacity to concentrate, allowing more opportunity to have these things contribute positively to mental health. It can also help with improving experiences at work and/or study environments.
Rising energy levels
A great byproduct of exercise is improved energy, which is a perfect antidote to the fatigue-ing symptom of mental health issues. Moving your body, even in small ways if that’s all you can muster on any given day, is setting yourself up for improved mental health (marginally, or significantly). Energy keeps us motivated, and motivation helps us achieve the goals we want to reach. Sometimes these are big long term goals, and sometimes it’s just staying on track with your Mental Health Care Plan.
Physical movement, essentially, is your ever-available support asset to improved mental health.
If you are looking for safe and effective ways to begin incorporating more movement into your life, talk to our friendly CK Health team today.