Does exercising improve mental health?
At this point, no one will be surprised by the statement that regular exercise is good for your health. Among other things we know that it allows to reduce overweight and obesity, which strengthens bones and muscles, which enhances the functioning of the immune system or reduces the risk of suffering problems or metabolic (such as type 2 diabetes) or even the risk of cardiovascular problems . But beyond the merely physical and physiological, since ancient times it has been affirmed that it also seems to be beneficial for the mental health of those who practice it.
What has this phrase of real? Does exercising improve mental health? Throughout this article we will make a brief dissertation about it.
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Mental health and physical exercise
Mental health and physical exercise have been frequently related since antiquity, and there is evidence that physical well-being and regular exercise also improve the psychological well-being of those who practice it. Currently and thanks to the advancement of science we have a much more specific knowledge of different aspects that have been shown to improve with exercise and some of its mechanisms: we know that sport promotes the release of endorphins , which improves our immune system and activation threshold and which alters our brain chemistry in such a way that makes us feel better and more active, among other aspects.
Recently, in an investigation carried out by different professionals during this same year and whose conclusions have been published in The Lancet Psychiatry Journal, the impact of carrying out exercise on mental health has been analyzed and the situation of a large sample of patients has been compared. American citizens in regard to mental well-being .
Specifically, the amount of days of distress and poor mental health that the subjects themselves reported was assessed, finding that on average those who exercise have a lower proportion of days in which they expressed feeling bad than those who did not (between three and four days after difference per month).
Although as a general rule all types of exercise are positive for improving physical and mental health (including activities such as housework, although its effect is much less), the same study seems to indicate that some of the types of sport that have the greatest advantage are for mental health they are those that involve teamwork, aerobic or gym exercise .
Also, clinical practice has shown that sport is indicated as highly beneficial for people with certain psychological problems such as depression, anxiety disorders, insomnia or even cognitive impairment. In fact, it is usually recommended at a preventive level or as a strategy to reduce the symptomatology of various problems. So, the answer to the question that gives title to this article is a very clear yes.
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Aspects that improve with the practice of exercise
There is a large number of researches regarding the advantages of sport over our health, both physical and mental. In this last area, some of the improvements that have been seen and that make it something highly recommended for most subjects including those suffering from a neurological or mental problem are the following.
1. Generates endorphins and increase the feeling of well-being
It has been proven that the realization of physical exercise causes the release of endorphins, endogenous opioids that have a relaxing effect and induce feelings of satisfaction, physical and emotional well-being.
2. It allows to improve self-image and self-esteem
The continued practice of sports also has an effect on body image, reducing weight and body fat and toning the body. This in turn has an impact on self-image and self-concept, Feeling more attractive, energetic and agile and increasing self-esteem . In addition to this, the fact of maintaining a constant routine and discipline make us look more consistent and able to persevere and fight for our goals.
3. It improves the mood
From all the above and as a result of the practice of physical exercise has been proven to increase well-being and allows better control and manage the mood, facilitating a positive emotional tone , more stable and more optimistic.
4. It slows down and hinders cognitive deterioration
Largely due to the previous point, it has been observed that people who exercise on a regular basis tend to be less likely to suffer cognitive impairment or dementias such as Alzheimer's, or to slow down the deterioration in early stages of these.
5. It favors the discipline
Sport and physical exercise, in addition to concentration, requires and favors the ability to maintain a routine and commit to do something that involves a continued effort over time. Thus, it facilitates the appearance of a disciplined attitude that can be extrapolated to other areas of life.
6. Facilitate socialization
Sport is a type of activity that moves a large number of people, being a hobby shared by many. This allows having points in common with other people, as well as facilitating contact with them. In addition there are a lot of exercises or sports, such as football or basketball, which have teamwork as one of their main bases.
7. Help to fall asleep
We have all done some exercise on occasion. After doing it, we have probably felt tired and relaxed, being able to sleep more easily if a prudential time passes between sport and sleep. It has been scientifically proven that the regular practice of exercise makes it easier to fall asleep and hinders the appearance of insomnia .
8. Clear, energize and increase motivation
Although it seems opposite to the previous point, the fact is that moderate exercise allows the person to clear and increase their energy level in the first moments, as a result of the alterations generated at the physiological level and in brain chemistry (for example, raising the level of cerebral noradrenaline).
In fact, despite the fact that afterwards it allows to get a better sleep, It is recommended not to do physical activity together before going to sleep due to this factor. This increase in activity can also increase the level of motivation and involvement towards other goals.
9. Reduces withdrawal syndrome and helps fight addiction
Doing sports is a recommended activity when it comes to combating addictions to substances, since it hinders and slows down the appearance of the desire to consume and generates endogenous endorphins that make consumption less necessary, as well as being an incompatible response to it. The influence in this sense is also linked to the alteration of circadian rhythms.
10. Combat stress and anxiety
Another problem in which sport is usually prescribed is the suffering of stress and anxiety, as it allows a distraction and concentration on the activity itself and at the moment hinder the continued rumination of possible concerns .
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11. Stimulate proactivity and creativity
The relaxation and the break with worries and thoughts, besides the increase of sanguineous flow that the exercise generates, allows that new ideas and strategies arise more easily after doing sport, being able to be more creative. Likewise, the increase of energy levels and motivation favor us being more proactive and solicitous.
12. Increase the ability to concentrate and memory, and increase cognitive ability
Another advantage that has been observed is that sport allows increasing the concentration and targeting capacity, as well as memory and general cognitive ability . It has also been seen that this may result in an improvement in the capacity of academic and work performance.
Also, precisely for these reasons it has been observed that it is beneficial for those with some type of intellectual disability.
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An excess is not good either
As indicated above, the regular practice of exercise is a great advantage for mental health, in addition to physical health. But nevertheless, As with most things, an excess of exercise can become harmful . In fact, those who perform more than three hours a day of exercise have a worse level of mental health than those who do not exercise.
For example, as with other activities that involve an increase in dopamine and endorphins, the excessive performance of sports can lead to it acquiring addictive characteristics. In this context, the subject may need more and more amounts of exercise to feel good, resulting in feelings of discomfort and restlessness in the absence of sport.
It can also lead to an overvaluation of body image, giving it a significance and importance too high. It is even possible that problems such as vigorexia, in which An obsession with exercise appears in order to obtain the most muscular body possible . Also, the practice of exercise is also used as a purge mechanism by people with eating disorders in order to burn calories and lose weight.
In addition to the above can lead to overtraining syndrome, in which an excess of training and the absence of sufficient rest periods can burn the person.In this context may appear problems sleeping, loss of energy or motivation, irritability and low tolerance to frustration, decreased libido and decreased mood, may even generate depressive disorders.
With regard to the question that gives rise to this article, the data observed by different studies allow us to conclude that, in effect,the regular practice of exercise improves the mental health of those who carry it out . This improvement is perceptible in many different areas, including the prevention of cognitive deterioration or even the improvement of symptoms in subjects with mental disorders.
Of course, this exercise should be done with moderation and with realistic expectations. In general it is recommended that the practice of exercise be limited to around 45 (between 30 and 60 minutes) a day between three and five times a week, this being the amount of daily exercise that increases the most in the level of mental health. generate.
- Chekroud, S.R., Gueorguieva, R., Zheutlin, A.B., Paulus, M., Krumholz, H.M., Krystal, J.H. & Chekroud, A.M. (2018). Association between physical exercise and mental health in 1-, 2 million individuals in the USA between 2011-2015: a cross-sectional study. The Lancet Psychiatry.
- Hardoy, C.M., Seruis, M.L., Floris, F., Sancassiani, F., Moro, M.F .; Mellino, G., Lecca, M.E., Adamo, S. & Carta, M.G. (2011). Benefits of exercise with mini tennis in intellectual disabilities: effects on body image and psychopathology. Clin. Pract Epidemiol. Ment Health 7: 157-160.
- Kellmann, M. (2002). Underrecovery and overtraining. In: Enhancing recovery, preventing underperformance in athletes. Champaign (IL): Human Kinetics, 1-24.