You already know that exercise is good for your body. But did you know it can also boost your mood, improve your sleep and help you deal with depression, anxiety, stress and other mental health issues?
The benefits of living an active life with moderate exercise far outweigh rock-hard abs. Physical activity plays a major role in keeping us mentally fit too. Just ask, Josia Sibanda (30) from Cape Town, who says his life-long fitness journey has helped him keep his mind zippy, happy and stress-free.
“I believe exercise really has a positive impact on me. It is not just on the physical aspects but also on my mental health. When I go for a run in the mornings, it really helps me to relax and clear my mind so I can start the day fresh.
“I also enjoy playing tennis. It helps with my emotional side, it helps me destress and puts me in a happy mood – exercise has helped me with my mental health.”
Pretoria-based exercise specialist Hlubikazi Ntshobane agrees that physical activity is a great mood booster.
Mental health and exercise
If you are into fitness, you’ve probably heard about the chemical messenger of the brain, called endorphins. Endorphins help relieve pain and stress and act as a “happy” hormone. To unlock the power of endorphins, psychologists and wellness gurus recommend going for a walk or a short run every time you feel overwhelmed or anxious – to release endorphins.
Research has shown that physical activity is an effective but often underused treatment for mild to moderate depression. In addition, exercising outdoors can help boost levels of vitamin D and your mood.
“Exercise can give one a sense of achievement. Starting and completing a training session can be a big mood and confidence booster. So, mentally you feel you have overcome a task that might have seemed difficult to do before,” explains Ntshobane.
What kind of activity unlocks happy hormones?
Low to moderate-intensity activity has been proven to be best, Ntshobane says.
“It’s more about the intensity rather than the actual exercise choices. You might choose to walk rather than run, or low or body-weight exercises over very heavy weight training. High-intensity exercise can be too strenuous, causing more stress.”
To get in on the benefits of exercise and the feel-good hormones that come with it, do 30 minutes of activity at least three to five times a week, she says.
Walking is probably the most underrated form of exercise. “Taking a long walk with your headset on can really be a game changer for one’s mental state and overall health. Music and exercise work well together.”
Always consult your GP before engaging in a new fitness activity, she warns. “If you have not exercised in a while, are over 50, or have a medical condition such as diabetes or heart disease, contact your doctor before starting an exercise programme or consult a personal trainer for a programme tailored to your individual needs.”
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