How Exercise Can Positively Impact Mental Health
Guest contribution by Adam Howard
After being diagnosed with social anxiety and depression by my GP in late 2016, I was at the lowest I had ever been and struggling to come to terms with the severity of my illness! There were so many questions I wanted answers to and most importantly I wanted to know of any way in which I could
feel better. As anyone who struggles with mental illness will know, living with it is a constant battle and something which cannot just “go away.”
However, one thing my GP did advise and encourage was to increase my physical activity and I cannot stress how much it has helped myself and I’m sure, many others.
While many people know that during exercise the body releases endorphins which trigger positive feelings, the effects of exercise on mental health are almost endless. The process of joining my local gym and going consistently has given a sense of routine that I previously lost after leaving college, plus allowed me to focus my mind and be more distracted from negative thoughts and feelings. The sense of community in the gym has also allowed me to new people and learn new things, thus alleviating some of the symptoms of my anxiety! Various studies also advocate the positive effects of exercise on mental health indicating that exercise can also improve self-esteem and confidence as well as reducing general stress and anxiety levels.
Since being diagnosed with a mental illness I have been prescribed fluoxetine and attended numerous cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) sessions and while I am in doubt that they have helped, I cannot recommend exercise highly enough to combat mental health issues. Although joining a gym is probably the most common way to take part in regular exercise, physical activity of any form- whether that be going for a walk or being involved in a team sport can be so beneficial to both our physical and mental wellbeing. Many a time I have woken up feeling terrible and completely unmotivated to do anything, let alone exercise and I know just how difficult to get out and do something is. From exercising regularly, I have now gained discipline and a habit of going and although it does not solve everything it is clear to me what benefits exercise has on mental health. A clear part of suffering with mental illness, particularly depression, is having little or no pleasure in doing things and finding something you enjoy can give you a place to turn in the darkest times.
The most important thing is finding what works best for you personally, whatever path you take!