Live in Southwest Florida? Enjoy the trails at Lakes Park for running, walking, and even working out at the fitness stations throughout the park. Photo courtesy of Charly Caldwell II
It’s no secret that we feel good after a workout.
We’ve all experienced it ourselves and countless research supports it. Research has also documented the benefits that exercise can have on mental wellbeing.
Mental illness is becoming one of the biggest contributors to global illness, and is a major cause of morbidity and mortality. Those who live with a mental illness are less active than their counterparts.
It seems obvious then, that fitness has a significant role to play, in terms of both prevention and enhancing quality of life.
When we break down what exercise can give do for us, beyond the aesthetic changes, it is clear to see why it is such an incredible coping strategy for persons with mental illness.
If experienced for long periods of time, loneliness and isolation can affect our mental health and put us at increased risk of developing depression, anxiety, paranoia and panic attacks.
Whether training one-on-one with a personal trainer, or attending a group exercise session, the social interaction fitness provides can be incredibly valuable for those who are experiencing a lack of connection and isolation.
Exercise is also an incredible tool to help people reconnect to who they are, separate from their diagnosis. It can help individuals build their confidence, esteem and self-acceptance.
Exercise is most beneficial to mental wellbeing – as to every area of health – when it is practiced consistently over time.
Setting goals that create a sense of meaning and hope is highly recommended, and will look different for each person.
These goals should not be based on physical changes but rather should instead focus on experiences or performances that promote feelings of self-confidence, self-esteem and confidence in the process.
Examples include training for fundraising events (check out Pan-Florida ride for Hunger, MS Rides, almost every ½ marathon or marathon and you can even hike Mt. Kilimanjaro to raise money to fight cancer), physical challenges or fun runs.
In the process of training, participants will not only get a regular sense of achievement as they steadily increase their strength, speed or endurance, but they will also learn a lot about themselves and their capabilities
Mental illness also impairs cognitive flexibility, which results in continuing unhelpful thoughts and behaviors, and restricts the ability to process and acknowledge new information.
It reduces the ability to see new solutions.
Regular exercise increases the volume of certain parts of the brain, particularly the hippocampus – the area of the brain involved in memory, emotion regulation and learning.
Research has shown that exercise leads to the creation of new hippocampal neurons (neurogenesis).
Conversely, other evidence has shown that many mental health conditions are associated with reduced new neuron creation, therefore, having exercise as a tool to keep the brain healthy and flexible is incredibly important.
Finally, exercise influences the same chemicals that antidepressants do.
There is a popular meme on social media that has been circulation for years. It say’s; “Exercise is the most underutilized anti-depressant”.
Let’s work together to make 2020 a year where we thrive both physically AND mentally. It takes a village.
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