How Fitness Affects Mental Health
Mental health is just as important as physical fitness. The World Health Organization estimates that, globally, 154 million people suffer from depression and mental health illnesses. Exercise has long been described as a natural ‘high’. This is because undertaking some activity can make a huge difference to a person’s mental health. Many studies and clinical trials have shown that being more active provides particular benefits including: Improved mood, reducing symptoms of stress, anger and depression, alleviating anxiety and reducing cognitive decline.
The “high” that is described by many, is partially due to the release of endorphins when your body is active. These are hormones that give us a feeling of happiness and reward. They have also been shown to improve a person’s mood. While the ‘high’ has traditionally been associated with running, walkers too have reported a ‘high’ after walking. Some suggest that this is increased with a walk of sixty minutes or more.
Aside from the release of “happy hormones”, maintaining fitness also has long-term benefits for mental health. Generally, regular exercise reduces one’s risk of heart disease, type II diabetes and some cancers. So physiologically speaking, the human body is functioning better when it is fitter than it would if one led a sedentary life.
Increase of Neutrophils and Monoamines
Exercise results in an increase of neutrophils and monoamines. Neutrophils are white blood cells that assist the immune system and monoamines are neurotransmitters. These are both linked to reducing symptoms of depression and mental health illnesses. The challenge in using exercise or physical activity as a medicine for mental health is that generally compliance with being active is quite low, as 10-20% of people in general are regularly active.
One study in the UK showed that taking upwards of 12,500 walking steps each day over approximately 100-days, as measured by using a pedometer, significantly improved mental health. Another study in Australia showed that people who took part in a walking program for approximately 100-days showed significant improvements in their 'Quality of Life'. Taken together these studies show that the duration of ‘activity’, whether it be structured or incidental can play a very significant role in improving ones mental health. Further the intensity of activity was not high, however did include taking the stairs at work, walking a little further before work by getting off transport one stop earlier and gentle walking during lunch breaks.
So by being more active and even exercising and being fitter, you are not only helping your body but also your mind.
*Images courtesy: © Thinkstock photos/ Getty Images
*Text Courtesy:Shane Bilsborough, international nutrition and exercise expert and the Co-Founder and COO of Stepathlon Lifestyle Pvt Ltd. Shane is also the author of three international best-sellers on nutrition and fitness.
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