Exercise and Mental Health

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Over the last 20 years, the prevalence of mental health issues in the general population has increased hugely. Research shows that 1 in 4 people have experienced a mental health problem over the last 12 months. Evidence suggests 12.5 million working days are lost each year due to stress, depression and anxiety. The increase in these statistics is concerning. Although it is likely some of the increase will be down to people being more willing to report and admit mental health issues (which is a positive step forward), it also makes it clear that 21st Century life is taking its toll. Economic uncertainty, social media, the influence of the news and rising expectations of what life should be like have all been suggested as possible causes. With sporting celebrities such as cyclist Victoria Pendleton and cricketer Andrew Flintoff suffering from well publicised mental health issues it is more important than ever that we become more aware of the problem.

Extensive research has proved that exercise has various benefits to our mental health. For example, in 1999, a study found that adults suffering from depression who did 45 minutes of aerobic exercise just 3 times per week improved their mood as much as those who took a well known prescription anti-depressant drug. Numerous studies have reported common links between exercise and better mental health. 5 of these well reported benefits are:

  1. It increases mood-boosting brain chemicals such as serotonin and endorphins

  2. It lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol

  3. It improves self-confidence and self-esteem

  4. It improves your sleep

  5. It takes you out of your head - it is harder to worry when you are focusing on something physical

Circulation and the movement of oxygen throughout the body seems to be the key factor in producing positive changes.

Mental health is a very serious issue and we are not saying that it can be ‘fixed’ by a run around the block. However, research has proven that regular physical activity can go a long way to improving how you feel about yourself and your body as well as releasing those ‘feel good’ chemicals.

For more information go to www.mentalhealth.org.uk


Andy Letham