There are more reasons to exercise other than “losing weight”.
And those reasons will probably keep you on track with a good exercise routine far longer than a losing weight goal will.
This is because a bigger picture, or a why, starts to come into play.
Health and fitness is a life long journey – you don’t just stop once you get to your “goal”.
You have to find ways to motivate you to keep going that don’t have anything to do with physical health.
So this is why we turn to mental health. We turn to reasons to exercise that make us feel good, instead of just look good.
Not only that – there is a strong correlation between the physical and mental health. You don’t just get to neglect one and hope things still turn out okay.
So today we are going to talk about that correlation, and how mental health affects physical health and vice versa.
“Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.” This statement is directly from the MentalHealth.gov website.
Just from that statement, I would say the importance of mental health ranks right up there with physical health.
Society is a tough place to be in these days, and if we aren’t taking care of ourselves, we can end up in some dark places.
This is why it is important to find ways to deal with stress, anxiety, depression, emotions, decision making before it gets out of hand.
Not only that, but if we don’t deal with these things head on for our mental health, our physical health is going to suffer because of it.
Let’s talk about that…
If left untreated, mental and physical health can create a snowball effect making things worse and worse.
Things like stress in the workplace or stress at home can lead to poor decision making. This poor decision making can lead to substance abuse or turning to food for comfort.
Those poor quality food choices can then snowball into chronic diseases like diabetes or heart disease.
Any type of past trauma or constant “high stress” emotions in the body (again, left untreated for an extended time) can also start to show up as other diseases like infertility, thyroid conditions, autoimmune disease etc.
Thus we see that mental health can play a huge role on physical health.
The most common being poor judgement or decision making.
When mental health declines, we seek comfort from outside sources. Which typically means poor eating habits and lack of exercise.
The desire to do nothing just continues to dig the hole deeper.
Not to mention, those poor eating decisions is usually a lot of high calorie, low quality foods, take-out, alcohol, etc.
It really is a full circle – you can’t really let one decline without the other following closely after.
this is why it is so important to exercise and continue to take care of both your physical and mental health.
Anxiety and depression are two very serious mental health disorders.
They can be debilitating, and go in waves, making it so hard to even explain it to someone else.
Not only that, but they can also give you feelings of being alone, or the only one suffering (which clearly isn’t the case) and it makes it hard to do anything.
As someone who suffers with anxiety – I know what it feels like to constantly be worrying, planning, thinking…it’s exhausting.
And it leaves you so emotionally and mentally drained that doing any sort of physical exercise to help “alleviate it” feels unbearable.
But – there are huge benefits of exercise for anxiety and depression.
I wrote a blog post on the topic here, diving into how it works, best workouts and more!
Exercise, or lack thereof, can also impact stress levels.
I wrote a blog post all about stress and the negative effects, it is a great read – here’s the link!
The release of endorphins during exercise are great for reducing stress, and stress levels can become unmanageable without the “escape” exercise provides.
Not only that but being in a constant state of high stress can lead to unwanted weight gain and hormone imbalances. The body is not going to lose weight being constantly stressed…which can also fuel the stress fire with body image worries.
Like I said, a snowball effect.
Exercise can impact mental health in a number of ways, and also in a number of people.
No two people are the same, in any aspect.
Whether it is physical health, mental health…we are all very individual.
But – exercise does have benefits for everyone.
A study published in 2006 by Sharma, Madaan, and Petty states,
“Exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function. Exercise has also been found to alleviate symptoms such as low self-esteem and social withdrawal.”
So exercise can help our physical health and our mental health – just from moving our body and letting certain hormones be released.
General movement can lead to better physical health, which can lead to better mental health and vice versa.
So – let’s so how exercise specifically improves mental health.
The same study posted in 2006 shared these health benefits from regular exercise:
• Improved sleep
• Increased interest in sex
• Better endurance
• Stress relief
• Improvement in mood
• Increased energy and stamina
• Reduced tiredness that can increase mental alertness
• Weight reduction
• Reduced cholesterol and improved cardiovascular fitness
All of which are going to be correlated to mental health in some way.
If we are taking care of our sleep, and our stress…our mental health is going to be positively impacted.
It is all tied together in some way – the physical affects the mental and the mental affects the physical.
So the more we move and sweat, the more benefits we are getting.
Notice how very few of these exercise benefits are wight loss.
This is why it is so important to create an exercise regime you enjoy doing, so that you can find other ways to stick to it and be motivated other than just “losing weight”.
That motivation wears off real quick – but if you choose stress reduction, less risk for chronic disease, to run around with your kids, to boost your mood, to give you more energy for day to day activities…then you will likely stay motivated, longer.
Inflammation can be known as a physical condition like a red/irritated spot.
Or it can also be an internal inflammation you cannot see, but you can feel.
Internal inflammation can show up as puffiness, increased water retention, swelling, gut issues, and more.
What is interesting about inflammation is that it doesn’t just show up one day.
It gradually starts to get worse and worse, and truly the only way you can notice it is when you do things to reverse it.
So by taking out certain foods, or removing alcohol, or exercising, we find that our bodies are actually inflamed and uncomfortable.
It wasn’t until recent years that studies have started to show inflammation being caused by mental illness.
Here is a paragraph from the Psychiatric Times, an article written by Charles Raison, MD.
“It seemed so logical in 2000 that inflammation could only produce mental illness when a person had a good excuse for inflammation, such as an infection or a cancer. We didn’t know then that psychological stress activates inflammation and that this activation would be found to predict the later development of psychopathology.1 Far from being specific to any one mental illness, or a sub-population within a mental illness, inflammation turned out to be a common denominator and likely risk factor for every manner of psychiatric disturbance, from schizophrenia to obsessive compulsive disorder, from mania to depression.”
So – even more connection between inflammation and the brain is being found on in todays research, which I find to be incredibly fascinating.
Let’s make sure we don’t get ahead of ourselves here though – inflammation is not the one cause of any mental disorder.
It can be a risk factor, but it is all still very individualized on a case by case basis.
But nonetheless, keeping inflammation at bay, or controlled the best we can, is going to be beneficial both physically and mentally.
As you can see, there is a strong correlation between mental and physical health.
Movement is medicine, and I will stand behind that statement forever.
It may not be a 100% cure for all things, but it does help aid in the process of feeling better physically and mentally.
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