Exercise: A Panacea for Mental Health?
By Aishat M. Abisola
As everyone knows, maintaining a proper grasp on your mental health can be difficult, especially in stressful environments.
Stressful situations make it hard for people to have good mental health which makes the mind vulnerable to mental illnesses like depression or anxiety disorder.
As someone who has dealt with anxiety, I can say with complete honesty that it is a terrible thing to deal with and the feeling of it lingers for a while until you feel better.
The best way to describe the anxiety, or how it made me feel, is that it made me feel cold and numb. It was hard for me to breathe as if I was drowning and many hands were pulling me under.
I didn’t know anyone around me who felt the same way I did so it was a struggle for me. Luckily, I found someone ways around and one of those ways was through exercise.
I’ll be honest and say that I don’t exercise as much as I used to but when I did, I felt as if I had no worries. I understand if you might be confused as to why and how I started feeling better with exercise.
What you should know about exercise is that not only does it keep people in peak physical form, but it also improves their overall well-being by creating changes in the brain.
Allow me to clarify that any form of exercise is better than none: yoga, walking, swimming, martial arts, stretching, housework (despite what some may think, things like sweeping and mopping can put your muscles to work).
People who exercise often generally sleep better, feel more energetic during the day, have better memories, and feel more positive about themselves.
This is not conjecture but facts as studies have actually shown that exercise can treat a mild or moderate version of depression the same way antidepressant medication can – minus the side effects.
Just walking 15 minutes a day or walking for an hour reduces the risk of depression by 26%.
Inactivity is damaging to your mental health in the same way that exercise can bring many benefits to your mental health.
As a natural anti-anxiety treatment, exercise relieves stress and improves both physical and mental energy.
Exercise releases what I refer to as the body’s “Happy” chemicals (Serotonin, Endorphins).
These chemicals are known for improving one’s mood and exercise releases a certain amount of it depending on the type of exercise.
Exercise also improves physical in more ways than one:
• Improves cardiovascular health by lowering blood pressure, improving cholesterol levels, reduces the risk of strokes, heart attacks and heart disease
• Helps with diabetes by improving blood glucose control, reducing cardiovascular risk factors, helping with weight loss, delays/preventing the development of type 2 diabetes,
• Reduces the risk of cancers: stomach cancer, breast cancer, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, uterine (endometrial) cancer, etc.
• Improves bone health by strengthening the muscles and bones because aging causes bone density loss, and prevents osteoporosis
• Increase the chances of living longer
• Helps you to maintain an appropriate weight level
• Improves brain functions and reduces the risk of dementia
When it comes down to exercise, at most, you should perform 2.5 – 5 hours of exercise a week.
It isn’t recommended for you do your exercise all at once.
You should reduce it into intervals of time to make it easier.
If you don’t have much spare time, here are ways that you can exercise without it taking up too much time:
• You can try walking or cycling if you have a bicycle
• Incorporate exercise into your daily lifestyle by maybe taking the stairs when you would probably take the elevator or parking your car (if you have one) far from your destination
• You can practice yoga by searching on YouTube and following the videos through the motions.
• You can exercise in the morning before you prepare for work
• Dancing is a fun method of exercising without putting much effort. Just play music and move your body
If you have a chronic condition like arthritis, a disability, weight issues or an injury that prevents you from moving too much, talk to your doctor about ways for you to exercise safely.
You can worsen your condition by exercising without consulting a doctor on what are the proper steps to take.
Another thing to note is that if you are feeling pain while exercising, stop and rest. Drink some water and lie down.
If the pain continues, don’t ignore it. Go and see a doctor for help.
If you’ve heard the saying “Health is Wealth”, before, then you know that you should prioritize your body.
Harming yourself just to improve your mental health will only make it worse.
Exercise may be helpful to the body and mind, but make sure to listen when your body is very clearly saying, “NO!”.
Aishat M. Abisola is a member of the Society for Health Communication
Wuye District, Abuja