Fighting Fit: The Many Mental Health Benefits Of Exercise

Healthy body, healthy mind, as the saying goes – and it’s far from just a throwaway figure of speech. There’s a wealth of deep-rooted scientific evidence to support this statement. Sure, regular exercise is good for the body  –  but it’s also one of the most effective ways of improving and stabilising a person’s mental health.

Below are some of the main mental health benefits of exercise. If your clients are wary of intense physical activity, relay these facts to them and their feelings may quickly change, in more ways than one.

mental health benefits

It can help overcome depression and ADHD

As we outlined in a previous blog, exercise releases the chemical dopamine into the brain. Dopamine is one of the main neurotransmitters responsible for happiness and has several functions. Namely, it enhances focus, energy and mood. Often, people suffer depression as a result of insufficient dopamine activity, as low levels of dopamine cause fatigue, memory loss and an inability to feel pleasure.

As well as dopamine, exercise releases feel-good chemicals like oxytocin and endorphins, which stimulate feelings of happiness, relaxation and accomplishment. It is therefore an ideal way of numbing the negative emotions linked to depression.

Low dopamine levels also cause reduced attention, alertness and mood stability, which is why they’re linked to mental health problems like ADHD. As such, exercising helps ADHD sufferers improve their concentration while giving them the stimulation and clear frame of mind they need. In fact, exercise is said to have the same effect as stimulant drugs used to treat ADHD.

It can help decrease anxiety and stress levels

As it releases dopamine, endorphins and other associated chemicals, exercise also relieves anxiety symptoms. According to research, people who exercise regularly are 25% less likely to develop depression or anxiety over the next five years.

This is likely because exercise counteracts anxieties’ physical characteristics, such as lack of sleep, anger and unused energy. A person’s anxiety is often caused by them not ‘working out’ their energy, which leads first to physical tension and, subsequently, mental tension.

Exercise overcomes this by creating neurons in the brain which release the neurotransmitter Gamma-Amino Butyric acid (GABA). When GABA is released, it counterbalances the release of glutamate, which causes feelings of restlessness and agitation.

mental health benefits

It helps enhance self-esteem

Common exercises such as weightlifting, yoga, aerobics and tai-chi have been proven to create an increased sense of self-worth. Weight lifting has understandable links to higher self-esteem, as each time a person increases the amount of weight they are able to lift, they feel more capable and competent.

But what you may not know is that yoga lowers levels of adrenaline and the stress hormone cortisol. Excessive cortisol causes depression, impaired long-term memory and leads to what researchers call “food-seeking behaviour” – in other words, the kind that drives someone to eat when they’re upset, angry, or suffering from low self-esteem.

Not only does yoga provide real physical and mental benefits in helping people avoid foods which add unnecessary body fat, it gives their nervous system some much-needed downtime, enabling deeper sleep and in turn improving general mood.

Check out this video of a Parkinson’s sufferer teaching Tai Chi and explaining how it has boosted his self-esteem

It can help to reduce the risk of dementia

There is a ton of evidence that aerobic exercise, tai chi and resistance training significantly reduce the risk of dementia by improving cognitive function. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain, which causes a region of the brain known as the hippocampus to expand.

The hippocampus is responsible for the forming of memories and spatial navigation, and it shrinks in late adulthood. However, as exercise expands the brain, it essentially slows down the rate at which it shrinks. A recent study showed that just an hour of exercise reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by almost half.

Hopefully explaining some or all of these benefits to your clients will motivate them to exercise. However, should they sustain an injury or encounter any unexpected mishaps following your advice or instruction, it is essential as a fitness instructor to have Public Liability insurance.  Insure4Sport offers flexible, quick and easy cover which is totally tailored to your requirements. Get an online quote in seconds today!

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