There are many ways that exercise positively influences your mental health:
Promotes the release of feel-good chemicals in your brain, like endorphins and serotonin.
It helps you sleep better so you rest fully at night and feel more energised during the day.
Gives you a sense of accomplishment as your fitness improves and you start achieving your goals.
Exercise is usually a shared activity with others so you get the added benefits of social connection.
What if you find exercise too hard or boring to engage in?
One of the most common conversations I have with my clients who may be experiencing anxiety, depression or PTSD is that they know about the benefits of exercise for mental health, but they just cant find the motivation to exercise. Often people with depression find a 30 minute walk may make them overthink or the anxiety they experience stepping out into public may be a barrier to exercise. The approach we use at BrainFit Exercise Physiology is to individualise an approach to becoming physically active and often this may start with by helping clients with learning about the "physiology of depression and/or anxiety" , then learning about the physiology of exercise.
Setting up support systems is also crucial when assisting clients with exercise. BrainFit Exercise Physiology offer $5 classes for clients of all backgrounds to attend with the main role of these classes to provide a weekly support group for people new to exercise and people in need of an " emotionally safe" exercise environment.
Support Systems for Improving Exercise Adherence
Exercise support systems can include the following:
Emotionally safe group exercise programs
Having someone to monitor your progressions ( coach, exercise instructor, family member, friend)
Setting goals that are achievable
Using technology and phone apps to measure progress
Creating a routine that fits your lifestyle, and not constantly attempting fit into a routine that isn't suitable for your mental health
Including a pet in your routine
Remember it's ok to rest too
It is important to allow yourself to have days of from exercise also. Mental health care also includes allowing your body to have some peace and quiet which may mean pulling the curtains, snuggling into bed for a few hours and taking a nap. Taking a break from exercise is not failing at exercise, and Brainfit clients are encouraged to program rest and recovery into their self care schedule. Sometimes life can become overwhelming and when battling a mental health issue trying, to fit exercise in can become too much. We use a 3 day guideline , encouraging our clients to take 3 days off from exercise and to plan to restart on their 4th day. A good rest can be as good as exercise.
Encouraging Outdoor Exercise
'Indoor exercise or gym based work can create great routines for people needing to include exercise as part of their treatment plan for mental health care. For some people, small rooms and noisy environments may not be the most suitable way to exercise and may create exercise avoidance.
Encouraging the use of bush walking, beach walking and water based exercise can assist with motivation. Often just attending an outdoor environment such as the beach or a pool and sitting and relaxing whilst observing people can be a great way to start an exercise program. You don't always need to be moving to be taking care of your mental health. The brain learns and rewires from observing behaviors of others and is how our " baby brain" learned to socialise and move, through the observation of other humans.
Creating a Feel Good Chemical Soup
Exercise creates a range of chemical reactions that assist with mood stabilization. Below are some of the chemicals that are enhanced through physical exercise Serotonin Serotonin is the key hormone that stabilizes our mood, feelings of well-being, and happiness. This hormone impacts your entire body. It enables brain cells and other nervous system cells to communicate with each other. Serotonin also helps with sleeping, eating, and digestion. However, if the brain has too much serotonin, it may lead to depression. If the brain has too much serotonin, it can lead to excessive nerve cell activity. It also helps reduce depression, regulate anxiety, and maintain bone health. BDNF Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) has been referred to as a fertilizer for your brain. It is a substance that is found in your brain and helps to maintain the life of your brain cells, as well as grow new ones. You’ve probably heard all about ‘neuroplasticity’ and how we used to think our brains, once adult, were like a lump of concrete – unable to change and grow. Scientists now believe our brains are more like plastic – able to adapt, grow and change depending on what we do with them. BDNF is widely accepted as being a key player in this ‘plastic’ ability of the brain – its presence has been shown to make brain cells in petri dishes sprout new branches (necessary activity for a cell to make new connections!). Low levels of BDNF have been associated with depression, anxiety, poor memory and brain degeneration as seen in conditions such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. Human Growth Hormone Growth hormone (GH) is a small protein that is made by the pituitary gland and secreted into the bloodstream. GH production is controlled by a complex set of hormones produced in the hypothalamus of the brain and in the intestinal tract and pancreas. The pituitary puts out GH in bursts; levels rise following exercise, trauma, and sleep. Under normal conditions, more GH is produced at night than during the day. This physiology is complex, but at a minimum, it tells us that sporadic blood tests to measure GH levels are meaningless since high and low levels alternate throughout the day. But scientists who carefully measure overall GH production report that it rises during childhood, peaks during puberty, and declines from middle age onward. GH acts on many tissues throughout the body. In children and adolescents, it stimulates the growth of bone and cartilage. In people of all ages, GH boosts protein production, promotes the utilization of fat, interferes with the action of insulin, and raises blood sugar levels. GH also raises levels of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1).