Physical health and mental health are interconnected in a reciprocal relationship. As a person improves their physical health, their mental health can benefit, and as a person improves their mental health, their physical health can improve. Since physical health is intertwined with psychological well-being, Liberty Wellness emphasizes wellness as part of our program to aid individuals with their mental health. One of the areas of physical wellness we focus on in our program is physical exercise. As part of our curriculum, we provide education about the benefits of physical exercise along with aiding individuals with how to implement routine exercise into their life. One of the ways we do this is by providing opportunities for individuals to have access to a local gym as part of their recovery process. The benefits of having this available in early recovery will be explored further on in this article.
Human beings are not made to be sedentary, and the biological wiring of a human is made to flourish with consistent physical activity. Most humans throughout the history of civilization were forced to engage in routine physical activity to survive. Individuals exerted themselves by walking, working, hunting, etc. However, in the modern era, the average lifestyle of individuals in developed nations has drastically been altered. This altercation in the average person’s lifestyle in a developed country is beneficial at times. For example, we are able to utilize technology that makes our lives easier in many ways, from driving cars, to having machines wash our clothes, to purchasing pre-packaged meat from a grocery store. However, one of the downsides of technology is that many of us are no longer required to exert much physical effort throughout the course of a given day. Due to this, we often are not engaging in the routine physical exercise that is required for optimal human flourishing that many people in history experienced simply due to the lack of technology in their era.
This change in technology leads to the need for intentionality in regard to physical exercise. If our daily vocation does not require consistent physical activity, then we need to intentionally set aside time to exercise our body to achieve optimal health. If we do implement physical exercise into our life, it will benefit our physical health along with our psychological health. Since physical exercise is such an important aspect of mental health, I wanted to provide a brief overview of some of the most notable benefits of routine physical exercise. The following are ten of the ways that exercise improves one’s mental well-being:
- Improves Sleep
Exercise can help individuals fall asleep easier at night and thus increase the quantity along with the quality of sleep each night. Sleep is closely associated with mental well-being, so improving sleep can enhance overall mental health.
- Improves Memory
Routine physical exercise improves memory and one’s ability to learn new things. Exercise can increase the production of cells in the hippocampus, which is responsible for memory and learning. Research has linked childhood brain development with
physical fitness. Working out can boost memory in adults as well. For example, a study showed that running can improve vocabulary retention among healthy adults.
- Protects Against Cognitive Decline
Routine physical exercise can be a protective factor against cognitive decline that begins after age forty-five. Routine working out, especially between the ages of 25 and 45, boosts the chemicals in the brain that support and prevent degeneration in the hippocampus, which is an important part of the brain involved in memory and learning.
- Reduces Anxiety
Physical activity appears to be protective against anxiety disorders in clinical and non-clinical populations. Physical exercise has been shown to significantly reduce the symptoms of anxiety. The mechanism through which exercise produces these effects appears to be due to a combination of biological and psychological factors.
- Enhances Brain Functioning
Multiple studies have shown that cardiovascular exercise can help develop new brain cells, known as neurogenesis, and enhance the overall performance of one’s brain. Studies suggest that a rigorous workout can increase levels of a brain-derived protein, BDNF, in the body. This is believed to help with decision-making, higher thinking and learning.
- Helps with Mood
Exercise releases endorphins, which create feelings of happiness and improve mood. Studies have shown that exercise can improve the symptoms in those who are clinically depressed. To improve overall mood, exercise can significantly affect how individuals feel emotionally in daily life.
- Stress Reduction
Physical activity is a major tool that can be utilized for stress management. Individuals can lower their stress levels by exercising consistently. Exercise also increases concentrations of norepinephrine, a chemical that can moderate the brain’s response to stress. Individuals who can keep stress levels lower can function more effectively in multiple areas of life.
- Beneficial in Recovery
Physical exercise can be utilized as a coping skill and as a means of working through a craving for drugs or alcohol. Engaging in physical activity cannot only distract someone from their cravings but also improve their mood, decreasing the need to utilize a substance for emotional regulation.
- Increases Energy
Research shows that workers who take time for exercise on a regular basis have more energy than their more sedentary peers. Regular physical activity increases the blood flow to your body and improves your cardiovascular health. This allows more blood and oxygen to get to the body providing energy to do work. Regular physical activity also increases the production of vital hormones such as thyroid-stimulating hormone, testosterone, human growth hormone, and catecholamines, all of which help increase your metabolism and give you more energy to devote to your mental health.
- Enhances Self-Esteem
Research has shown that exercise can increase our self-esteem. Exercise can help individuals improve their physical fitness, which in turn can help them feel more comfortable with their body image. Additionally, achieving an exercise routine can provide someone with a sense of accomplishment that enhances their confidence.
These are just ten of the ways that physical exercise can benefit mental well-being. Regarding how much exercise is needed to achieve some of these benefits, it is recommended that your average person get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity.