What is mental health?
“Mental health” should not be perceived as inherently negative or positive; rather, it exists on a continuum that we all inhabit, and our position on this continuum may change daily. Several factors contribute to our emotional well-being, and some elements are crucial for maintaining a positive mental state. It’s important to note that not having a mental health condition does not guarantee flourishing mental health, just as individuals with mental illnesses can still experience positive life events in other aspects of their lives.
Maintaining social connections, fostering healthy personal relationships, and participating in a supportive community (1) are vital for cultivating a positive outlook on life. Many forms of exercise can positively impact these three areas. Moreover, positive mental health is often intertwined with physical well-being. Individuals who are newly grappling with mental health issues may experience heightened anxiety due to a lack of understanding. In such cases, establishing grounding practices, like a structured exercise routine, can be crucial and has undoubtedly saved countless lives in the past.
What are the risk factors for poor mental health?
Mental health conditions can cause distress, hinder daily functioning and relationships, and are linked to poor physical health and premature death from suicide. When your body is unwell, it’s highly likely that your mind is also suffering. If you wake up every day feeling as though your life is slipping away or out of your control, it affects every interaction and may lead to a loss of self-identity.
Various factors can contribute to the manifestation of mental health issues, and these factors vary across age groups:
For children, some of the primary negative factors include:
- Excessive screen time
- Sedentary behavior*
- Chronic illness*
- Excessive screen time
- Poor family functioning
- Chronic illness*
For adults and the general population:
- Social isolation and loneliness*
- Insecure employment
- Economic inequality
- Physical health conditions*
- Stress events*
When looking over those factors above it is amazing that all those marked with a * can be directly treated with exercise.
What are the advantages of exercise and mental health issues?
First and foremost, it’s essential to acknowledge that regular exercise often has a profoundly positive impact on depression and anxiety alone. Even if these were the only two factors related to physical fitness and mental health, it should be motivation enough to start exercising today. However, the benefits of exercise extend beyond this.
Exercise relieves stress, improves sleep quality, enhances memory and cognition, boosts mood, increases self-esteem, raises overall energy levels, and enhances mental resilience, among other benefits (3).
While you may have heard about the physiological benefits of exercise, such as the release of endorphins and serotonin by the brain to elevate mood, what you might not realize is that merely completing a task from start to finish can have a significant impact on your mental well-being. Once you start, the possibilities become more apparent.
In essence, humans are designed to be active. In today’s society, where convenience often leads to neglecting physical activity, it’s crucial to recognize when this is happening and find ways to incorporate daily exercise into your routine.
Here are some examples of exercise for mental health
What’s remarkable about exercise for improving mental health is that anything you can manage will make a difference. Whether it’s completing ultra marathons, participating in team sports, stretching in the mornings, or engaging in any physical activity, every effort counts.
The health and exercise community represents one of the largest social movements globally, evident on social media platforms. People are involved in various sports and activities, providing the perfect environment to explore new interests or exciting activities. Whether it’s rock climbing, snorkeling, boxing, soccer, hiking, yoga, or leisurely walks on the beach, every activity has a social community filled with enthusiastic individuals, allowing you to forge meaningful relationships with like-minded people.
Remember, if you find yourself going through a low point in your life, take solace in the fact that many others have faced similar struggles. Don’t hide your thoughts; talk to people about them, as you might be surprised at how not alone you truly are.