Everyone knows that exercise plays an important role in physical health, especially in terms of critical areas, like cardiovascular wellness. When we look at health holistically, however, it quickly becomes obvious that exercise shouldn’t be thought of as having strictly physical benefits.
No, if you’re concerned about your mental health, exercising is a smart move – especially when it comes to preventing and managing anxiety and depression.
While the stigma associated with many mental health complaints has lessened over the years, it’s still significant, and many people don’t talk about their own struggles with common mental health problems like depression and anxiety. It may come as a surprise, then, that about one-fifth of American adults meet the criteria for a mental illness diagnosis in any given year. To put it plainly, just because we talk about these conditions more than we used to doesn’t mean we talk about them enough.
The Right Supports
Many people with mental health challenges have heard advice along the lines of “just exercise more,” but when you’re dealing with major mental health challenges, it can be hard to shake off the fatigue, fog, or fear and get out there.
As such, it’s important that we provide different support systems for those interested in trying to change their routines. For example, having a fitness coach can help with motivation, as well as by helping newcomers find activities they enjoy. For others, the option to attend group fitness classes can help by not only encouraging exercise, but also by providing necessary social interactions.
Preventative And Ameliorative
As noted above, people who are already struggling with their mental health are often the targets of pro-exercise commentary. Those comments are well-meaning, certainly, and even rooted in science, since exercise can help people manage mental health symptoms by improving mood and increasing self-esteem, as well as improving sleep quality and reducing stress. That said, those without pre-existing mental health conditions can also benefit from getting some exercise.
According to research into exercise and anxiety disorders, regular exercise can reduce the likelihood of developing clinical anxiety by 60%. Given that anxiety disorders represent that plurality of mental illness diagnoses in adults in any given year, far outpacing even clinical depression, consistent physical activity could significantly transform our broader public health profile.
Keep It Simple
One of the least effective things you can do for someone struggling with mental illness is to push them toward big changes in routine. Often, these are people who struggle with even small changes or new activities, so telling them they should train for a race or try weight lifting right off the bat can be overwhelming and lead to even more resistance to change. Instead, it’s important to be gentle, to ask what might appeal to them, and even offer to participate with them. Exercise can help, but it should be accompanied by kindness.
The earlier in life we build enjoyable fitness routines, the more likely we are to continue them and find pleasure in them, and since many mental health problems begin during adolescence, helping young people find activities they enjoy has the potential to be life-changing – or even life-saving.
These are the things we uncover when we remember to include mental health in the conversation about overall wellness – that running or playing soccer is good for your body, sure, but it’s good for your brain, as well, and that’s just as important.