We all know we tend to feel better when we have done some exercise, but how is our mental wellbeing connected to working out? I’ve joined with Anytime Fitness, Uckfield for their National Workouts and Wellbeing Week to look at how our physical and mental health and wellbeing are connected.
Stress is a big issue for many people. The stresses of day to day life can have a big impact on our emotional and physical wellbeing. This is because of the ‘fight, flight, freeze’ alarm system in our brains, which has been around since caveman times. Our brains are wired so that if we are in danger (like a caveman stumbling across a tiger) we get ready to fight, run or stay really still until the danger has gone. Most of the time the things that set off this alarm in our brain aren’t dangers (like tigers!) but day to day stresses, but our brains still react in the same way. When this alarm goes off it sends a signal to release hormones; including adrenaline and cortisol which increase our heart rate and blood pressure and increases energy in our blood, all to get us ready to fight, run or stay really still.
When our alarm system is going off all the time, and our bodies are constantly being flooded with adrenaline and cortisol this can cause depression, anxiety, digestive problems, headaches, weight gain, sleep problems, and can affect our memory and concentration. This is one way exercise can help: Aerobic exercise actually reduces the levels of adrenaline and cortisol in our bodies. Not only that but exercise also causes endorphins to be released. Endorphins are a natural pain reliever, improve our mood and immune response and regulate our appetites. So the process of working out is likely to make us feel better and reduce the effects of stress on our physical and emotional health. Research has also found that doing exercise can improve concentration as well as mood.
Wellbeing isn’t just about what happens with our bodies and brains when we exercise. A technique often used in therapy (especially for low mood and depression) is called activity scheduling. This involves planning and carrying out regular activities, which should be a mixture of things that are fun, and also things that give you a sense of achievement. This might be things like spending time with friends, shopping, cleaning the car, going to the gym, going to the cinema – the list is endless and will be individual to each person.
Relaxation and mindfulness are also good for mental wellbeing. Relaxation can be about just doing things you find relaxing, but it is also good to ‘actively relax’. This means doing an activity purposefully for relaxation: That could be using imagery, like imagining yourself on a beach – what can you hear, see, smell, touch, taste? Or it could be using a progressive muscle relaxation, where you tense and relax different muscle groups in turn. Mindfulness is about paying really good attention to what is going on right now, instead of thinking or worrying about the past or the future. YouTube has some good videos for relaxation and mindfulness.