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  • Dr Andrew Smy

Exercise: Mind or Body?

In the UK, 1 in 4 people experience a mental health problem each year, with 1 in 6 reporting anxiety and depression each week. Awareness of mental health is growing as it becomes more talked about in media and in society.


So how can exercise be used to improve our mental health?


As discussed on my last post, Physical Effects of Exercise, exercise has many benefits of improving our body’s health, but it also has benefits for our mental health. A study conducted in Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that running for 15 minutes a day, or walking for an hour, reduces the risk of major depression by 26%. When exercising, our bodies release endorphins, which help us deal with stress and boost happiness, and also creates new neural pathways, in the brain, promoting more calming and a better wellbeing.



When exercising, you set goals, giving yourself something to work towards. This can be really important for someone suffering with mental health issues as it can give them a goal to work towards. When the person achieves those goals, they get a release of endorphins and a sense of achievement, which to someone suffering from mental health issues can be an extremely positive for them. Exercise can also be an escape or down time, away from negative thoughts and stresses that feed the depression and anxiety, as they have to focus on the exercise.


Some mental health issues can be the result of low self-esteem and low confidence, which exercise can improve. You can use exercise to change your body composition, which for some people will improve their self-esteem, increase their confidence and help reduce some of those anxious thoughts, ultimately improving the mental health of people suffering with mental health conditions.


Stress is another factor that contributes to mental health issues as it can make you feel overwhelmed and unable to cope. The body’s first response to stress is to release stress hormones which affect areas of the brain that control mood and emotions. Exercise has been shown to alleviate stress by relaxing muscle that are tense and reduce the level of stress hormones released which will help improve mood by reducing levels of stress hormones and also the increase in endorphins.


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