Yes it is back! The Bell Let’s Talk campaign regards mental health.
From my research, here is my perspective on helping with mental health:
Using A Physical Activity and Exercise Program To Help for Depression, Anxiety, and Stress
While most people know that physical activity and regular exercise is good for the body, what may be unknown is it also one of the most effective ways to improve your mental health.
Regular physical activity and exercise can have a very positive impact on depression, anxiety, ADHD, and more. It also helps in relieving stress, improves memory, helps to sleep better, and boosts overall mood.
And no, you don’t have to be a fitness fanatic to reap the benefits. Research indicates that modest amounts of exercise can make a difference. No matter your age or fitness level, you can learn to use physical activity and exercise as a powerful tool to feel better.
What are the mental health benefits of physical activity and exercise?
Physical activity and exercise is not just about aerobic capacity and muscle size. Sure, that can improve your physical health and your physique, trim your waistline, improve the quality of your life, and even add years to your life. But that’s not what motivates most people to stay active.
People who engage in physical activity and exercise regularly tend to do so because it gives them an enormous sense of well-being. They feel more energetic throughout the day, sleep better at night, have sharper memories, and feel more relaxed and positive about themselves and their lives. And it’s also powerful medicine for many common mental health challenges. Here are a few examples:
Physical Activity and Exercise Helping With Depression
Studies show that physical activity and exercise can treat mild to moderate depression as effectively as antidepressant medication—but without the side-effects, of course. In addition to relieving depression symptoms, research also shows that maintaining an exercise schedule can prevent you from relapsing. Pretty cool eh!
Physical activity and exercise is a powerful depression fighter for several reasons. Most importantly, it promotes all kinds of changes in the brain, including neural growth, helps to reduce inflammation, and new activity patterns that promote feelings of calm and well-being. It also releases endorphins, powerful chemicals in your brain that energize your spirits and make you feel good. Finally, by being engaged in physical activity and exercise, it serves as a distraction, allowing you to find some quiet time to break out of the cycle of negative thoughts that feed depression.
Physical Activity and Exercise Helping With Anxiety
Physical activity and exercise is a natural and effective anti-anxiety treatment. It relieves tension and stress, boosts physical and mental energy, and enhances well-being through the release of endorphins. Anything that gets you moving can help, but you’ll get a bigger benefit if you pay attention instead of zoning out.
Try to notice the sensation of your feet hitting the ground, for example, or the rhythm of your breathing, or the feeling of the wind on your skin. By adding this mindfulness element—really focusing on your body and how it feels as you participate in physical activity and exercise—you’ll not only improve your physical condition faster, but you may also be able to interrupt the flow of constant worries running through your head.
Physical Activity and Exercise Helping With Stress
Ever noticed how your body feels when you’re under stress? Your muscles may be tense, especially in your face, neck, and shoulders, leaving you with back or neck pain, or painful headaches. You may feel a tightness in your chest, a pounding pulse, or muscle cramps. You may also experience problems such as insomnia, heartburn, stomach ache, diarrhea, or frequent urination. The worry and discomfort of all these physical symptoms can in turn lead to even more stress, creating a vicious cycle between your mind and body.
By engaging in physical activity and doing some exercising, this is an effective way to break this cycle. As well as releasing endorphins in the brain, physical activity and exercise helps to relax the muscles and relieve tension in the body. Since the body and mind are so closely linked, when your body feels better so, too, will your mind.
How Physical Activity and Exercise Helps With ADHD
Engaging in physical activity and exercising regularly is one of the easiest and most effective ways to reduce the symptoms of ADHD and improve concentration, motivation, memory, and mood. Physical activity and exercise immediately boosts the brain’s dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels—all of which affect focus and attention. In this way, exercise works in much the same way as ADHD medications such as Ritalin and Adderall.
Physical Activity and Exercise Helps With PTSD and Trauma
Research has shown that by really focusing on your body and how it feels as you exercise, you can actually help your nervous system become “unstuck” and begin to move out of the immobilization stress response that characterizes PTSD or trauma.
Instead of thinking about other things, pay close attention to the physical sensations in your joints and muscles, even your insides as your body moves. Exercises that involve cross movement and that engage both arms and legs—such as walking (especially in sand), running, swimming/aqua classes, weight training, or dancing—are some of your best choices.
There are also outdoor activities like hiking, sailing, mountain biking, rock climbing, whitewater rafting, and skiing (downhill and cross-country) have also been shown to reduce the symptoms of PTSD.
Has your perception of what physical activity and exercise and its benefits been influenced positively? I hope so!
In Part 2 (tomorrow), I will mention some of the other mental health benefits of being physically active and participating in exercise.
Until then, help with the Bell Let’s Talk campaign and check-in tomorrow.
Francois, MES, CLT, KTP, HBPE
Founder & Chief Medical Exercise Specialist @