By The Wild Women On Top Coastrek Team
Picture this. You’ve just arrived at the top of a really, really steep hill. You’re breathing hard, panting. You feel a bead of sweat drip down from your hairline onto your cheek. Your face is red, hair messy. The stitch you had earlier is beginning to subside. Your friend runs up beside you and you give her a high five and a little ‘whoop’. She’s smiling from ear to ear. Your workout is done. Coffee time.
As you catch your breath, you turn around and see the sun rising before you over a beautiful, sparkling ocean. You feel alive, totally blissed out.
If you’ve ever been in a situation similar to this, you know how powerful a mood booster exercise can be.
But how exactly does exercise improve mental health.
1. It produces endorphins, which make you feel great
To put it simply, exercise affects mental health by producing hormones that make us feel great. When you exercise, your body releases these chemicals, called endorphins, which reduce your perception of pain and make you feel euphoric, positive and optimistic about life. It’s kind of like taking morphine, but it’s free, non-addictive and has zero negative side effects.
2. It’s social, and friends make you HAPPY
Chances are getting moving also means getting social! Whether you’re walking along the beach with a friend, playing a game of tennis, doing a Pilates class or coming to Trek Training, you’ll be chatting, laughing, and getting some epic human contact.
Research shows how connection with others produces oxytocin (the love hormone, which makes us feel relaxed and positive) and dopamine (the pleasure hormone, which makes us feel satisfied and fulfilled), which are both critical in creating great mental health.
There is tonnes of research which proves how great connection and community are for your mental health, so spending time with friends is a sure-fire way to boost your mood and even protect you from developing mental health issues.
3. It helps build self esteem
The relationship between exercise and mental health can also be indirect. For example, exercise can help build self-esteem, as you learn a new skill or improve your strength and fitness. Achieving goals or completing challenges can be a powerful way to boost your confidence, which in turn improves your mental health.
4. It can take your mind off your worries
When you are struggling with mental health issues, your mind can get stuck into a cycle of worrying or negative thought patterns. Getting moving can be a good way to shift these patterns as you are forced to focus on the immediate “problem”, like getting to the top of the hill, completing 10 pushups. After the workout is finished, the problems can feel a little more in perspective.
5. It can lower your risk of other illness, which are risk factors for depression
Exercise can improve mental health by lowering your risk of other illnesses. Research shows that depression is associated with chronic inflammation, obesity, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes. In clinical trials, regular physical activity has been shown to have positive impacts on all these conditions, which may result in reduced rates of depression.