01 NovExercise Your Mental Fitness

There seems to be increasingly more awareness and understanding around the importance of prioritizing mental health, which is awesome. Despite this, we often find ourselves not giving our ‘mental fitness’ the same time of day as our physical fitness. What if I could convince you that your physical exercise CAN help your mental fitness!? 

What does the research say? 

  • Regular exercise can be equally effective as antidepressant medication in the treatment of mild to moderate depression. 
  • Exercise can further assist individuals with depression who only partially respond to anti-depressant medication. 
  • Both aerobic exercise (walking/jogging/cycling etc.) and resistance (strength) exercises have been found to be helpful in treating depression. 
  • People who exercise regularly experience fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety than those who do not. 

How does this happen? 

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter which regulates several important functions including mood, sleep, libido and appetite. Depression has been linked to problems with the serotonin pathway. Research suggests that regular exercise may increase the level of serotonin in the brain. Exercise can also increase the level of endorphins in the brain which may improve mood. 

Some other ways that regular exercise can alleviate symptoms of depression is by: 

  • Increasing energy levels 
  • Improving sleep 
  • Distracting from worries and rumination 
  • Providing social support and reducing loneliness if exercise is done with other people 
  • Increasing a sense of control and self-esteem, by allowing people to take an active role in their wellbeing. 

Often exercise can be the last thing we want to do when we have challenges with our mental health, but it can be one of the most effective strategies we can use. Remember to start small and do not put high expectations on what you need to do; the physical activity guidelines state that any activity is better than no activity! If you need some support, an exercise physiologist can help get you started. 

To read more, visit: 

https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/5-exercise_depression.pdf 

 

Tamika Hassum

Accredited Exercise Physiologist

 

Physical Activity Guidelines for Young People Aged 13–17, health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/health-pubhlth-strateg-phys-act-guidelines#apa1317 Exercise and Depression Fact Sheet, The Black Dog Institute, blackdoginstitute.org.au 

Parker et al, The effectiveness of simple psychological and exercise interventions for high prevalence mental health problems in young people: a factorial randomised controlled trial. Trials 2011, 12:76