There is no doubt that exercise is essential to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. With the media so constantly emphasizing the importance of staying active to reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes, it has become general knowledge that exercising regularly is an integral part of staying healthy. What may be less known however, is that exercise is also a very important part of promoting mental health. This goes for both mental health patients on the path to recovery and for everyone else trying to stay healthy.
Aerobic exercises such as jogging, cycling, hiking, or biking have been linked to reduced anxiety and depression. This is due to the fact that aerobic exercise leads to increased blood circulation to the brain; namely, the limbic system which is primarily concerned with emotional responses to stressful situations.
The increased blood circulation has effects on the interactions between the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal glands, which result in a different physiological response to stress. This can also be explained by the associated increase in endorphin levels that are also seen after doing aerobic exercise.
Another explanation for this observation focuses on the social aspect of exercise. They argue that exercise is a form of social interaction, which promotes forming relationships with other and thus, improves mental health. Social interaction through exercise can be seen in the form of team-based sports or even just having a workout buddy! Furthermore, exercise can simply be a distraction and a reliable form of stress relief. By just giving yourself something to do, you can divert your attention from life’s stressors towards working on improving yourself and achieving short-term fitness goals. As a result, self-confidence and your overall perception of yourself can improve.
So how much exercise is necessary to reap these benefits? Half an hour of exercise for five days a week is what’s recommended and so you can see that consistency is what is really important here. Rather than spending a large amount of time rarely, it is more beneficial to spread small amounts of time evenly throughout the week. But how exactly are you supposed to regularly fit this time into your busy schedule? If it’s not possible to move around commitments to make a 30 minute slot to exercise, doing even two 15 minute sessions is fine! It’s also important to find an activity that personally works for you. Physical activity isn’t limited to just going to the gym or playing an organized sport.
Something like jogging home after walking your kid to school or even doing housework in a vigorous fashion counts! Other examples can be walking up the stairs instead of taking the elevator at work or going to talk to a co-worker in person, rather than giving them a call.
As you can see, incorporating exercise into your daily routine doesn’t necessarily have to be a big commitment and there are very flexible ways to do so. Not everyone has to follow a strict regimen in order to benefit from the list of both physical and mental advantages associated with incorporating regular physical activity into your life!
Venkatesh Balaji is a premedical student at UC Berkeley. His interests include cell biology and public health and he hopes to incorporate both of these topics in my blog articles for Azumio.
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