Activ8 Advice: Effects of Exercise on Mental Health

By PCYC Lang Park Fitness Professional, Leigh Kable

The benefits of exercise have wide-reaching effects, not only on our physical selves, but also on our mental health.

In a physical sense, exercising releases natural chemicals called endorphins which help to enhance your mood. Exercising also increases blood flow to the brain which can help improve brain function, and can help strengthen connections between nerve cells which may have positive implications for those with degenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s or other conditions such as diabetes or obesity.

When considering mental health, social interaction through exercise can help relieve feelings of depression and anxiety related to illness, which in turn can promote better sleep which is a major factor in our wellbeing and general health.

Mood enhancement from exercise is not confined to those who may identify as being depressed or are battling mental health issues – any exerciser will remember the time-wasting inner dialogue over whether to be active or not…the longer the procrastination, the more anguish is felt. At this stage, the best recommendation is to “Just Do It”! Shut down the inner voice, get your shoes on, and get out the door. Put the right amount of effort into your exercise session and bask in the warm feeling of satisfaction!

The Australian guidelines recommend around 30 minutes of exercise per day and this can be taken in two short sessions of 15 minutes, or one longer one. Taking exercise outside can bring additional benefits, such as exposure to sunlight to create vitamin D, which the body needs for good bone health. Other roles of vitamin D include modulation of cell growth, neuromuscular and immune function, and reduction of inflammation. Anyone who has a dog has the perfect exercise companion who will usually be happy with any pace in any weather!

Mental health cannot really be separated from the physical, so by looking after the one, we promote the health of the other. Our bodies are made to move and are happiest on every level with adequate activity, so by making sure we move often, we will move better.

Pain or stiffness from too much sitting is no fun. Exercise can give the body better muscle tone, strength and endurance and better balance and coordination as well as increased immunity from good cardiovascular health, reducing the risk of some cancers, helping control blood sugar and assisting with weight management. Basically, extinguish those inner voices, and live by the adage that the only bad workout is the one that didn’t happen!