The Effects of Physical Activity on Mental Health
Physical activity has always had several virtues on mental health. The latter stems from the overall state of psychological well-being and emotions of an individual.
A stable mental health state implies good stress management skills and a fairly satisfactory quality of life. Thus, an unstable mental health state could subject the person to nervous episodes, which affects their quality of life.
The symbiotic link between the good state of the body and mind has been highlighted in recent years through in-depth studies. According to Emmanuel Poirel “the psychological benefits of physical activity could contribute to increasing the state of individual well-being, to the realization of full potential and to the increase of psychological resources in times of adversity.” By way of illustration, studies in the form of a psychometric questionnaire having been administered to individuals after they had finished a sports session, have shown that the feelings afterwards are comparable to taking anxiolytic drugs.
How Does Physical Activity Affect the Brain?
There are certain biological and neurochemical processes involved in the complementary relationship between physical activity and mental health, specifically:
Endorphins: When exercising, the body releases endorphins which are hormones acting as natural antidepressants. Endorphins are often the cause of feelings of well-being called “endorphin rush,” which help to overcome stress and oppressive emotions.
Reduction of cortisol: Cortisol is the stress hormone; hence regular physical activity can be beneficial in the management and prevention of stress and related chronic mental disorders.
Growth of the hippocampus: Research has shown that daily exercise can help the hippocampus grow, which is a region of the brain related to memory and learning. Therefore, the growth of the hippocampus could be conducive to cognition and mental endurance.
Mood regulation: Regular physical activity helps stimulate the production of serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter with a great role in mood regulation. Thereby, increasing serotonin stimulation will help reduce the effects of depression and anxiety.
Which Activities Are Recommended and at What Interval?
Without a doubt, it is important to find a physical activity that suits your preferences and lifestyle. Beyond its benefits, the results will be all the more rewarding if as a bonus you perform an activity that makes you feel good inside.
A recent study by the Mental Health Foundation also suggests that, with some exceptions, high-intensity exercise provides better mental health outcomes than low-intensity exercise. This would include physical exercises such as:
Resistance training: With weights or resistance bands, studies suggest that anxiety would be reduced after 20 minutes of continuous activity involving good muscle mass.
Speed walking and running: These exercises allow the production of endorphins, and can be excellent ways to improve the cardiovascular system. A daily twenty-minute run or brisk treadmill walk of 25 to 75 minutes at moderate intensity can impact self-efficacy and reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression.
Cycling and aerobics: Stimulating cardiovascular activity, these are exercises that, according to the Mental Health Foundation, are associated with reducing most days of “unstable” mental health per month.
Yoga, Tai chi, and Qigong: These disciplines include a mix of physical exercise, breathwork and meditation. They confer a relaxed state of mind and combine reduction of the stress hormone, flexibility in movements, concentration and return to oneself. These activities can be done daily for 15 to 25 minutes.
Thermotherapy: At Bota Bota, this is done in the water circuit, and is an ancient approach that has been used over the years in order to relieve certain ailments, such as physical pain and mental health problems. It stems from the alternation of hot, cold and relaxation to stimulate the production of endorphins, to relieve tensions in some areas of the body and help reduce the soreness of muscles. Therefore, it would help prevent anxiety and symptoms of depression. To learn more about thermotherapy, click here.
Choosing a Physical Activity
The daily practice of physical activity contributes to regulating the mood and positively impacting the image that we have of ourselves and our physical and emotional well-being. However, in order for the exercise not to become a burden, it is important to choose our activity according to our intrinsic needs and our abilities.