“This month, we celebrate Mental Health Month. We recognize the incredible strides we’ve made in promoting understanding, increasing opportunities and improving the lives of people living with mental health and substance use problems.
But Mental Health Month is also an opportunity to acknowledge how much more work there is to do…”
-National Council for Behavioral Health
IN HONOR OF MENTAL HEALTH MONTH:
Physical Activity & Mental Health: What’s the Connection?
“You don’t have to have a diagnosed mental illness to experience poor mental health”, a quote from Muscling Up on Mental Illness: How Exercise Can Help Both Body and Mind, gives justification to those who may feel irrational sadness, brain fog and fatigue, symptoms of anxiety or loss of interest in hobbies.
It may also shine more light for those who use physical activity to “feel better” when they didn’t recognize the benefit they were seeking was an escape from mental turmoil.
Research over the years has shown connections between short and long term physical activity (PA) and mental health in a variety of capacities:
Short term PA=
- Immediate mood enhancement, at any intensity, as it relates to participant enjoyment
- Production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF); proteins that help sustain brain-cells and grow new ones (so cool!)
- Decrease in depression and anxiety symptoms, which can translate to elimination of these conditions for those who use PA long-term
Long term PA=
- Improvement to the brain’s cognitive functioning, at all ages
- Decrease risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
- Positive changes in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) symptoms
Other impacts of regular PA that have an indirect effect on mental health=
- Decrease in drug and alcohol dependence
- Better sleep
- Decrease in cortisol levels (i.e. stress)
- Boost in self-esteem, self-efficacy
- Increase in social engagement
- PA is “exposure-therapy” in that it mocks anxiety symptoms of tense muscles, sweating, and increased heart rate, so that the individual is less sensitive to these.
Science has been able to explain some of the connection between physical activity and improvement to our mental well-being, but much of it is still left to the individual experience; to explore and feel and KNOW the impact moving the body can have on our overall quality of life.
Any increase in physical activity from sedentary can prove beneficial. It really depends on the person, how much PA they may already be doing or have done in the past. There is also an upper limit to the benefits so it is important to ensure we do not over stress the body with an amount or intensity of PA that the body cannot sustain, from any base fitness level.
Unfortunately, when we are experiencing poor mental health it may leave us with no desire for PA (just as well as low physical activity can trigger poor mental health). Therefore, treatment for improving mental health needs to be more than just PA. Use PA in conjunction with other treatments. Once PA becomes an established and positive routine it can then become a standalone tool.
Mental Health Stories, Support, Information and More at…
National Alliance of Mental Illness: https://www.nami.org/#
Mental Health America: http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/about-us
National Council for Behavioral Health: https://www.thenationalcouncil.org/
Stuart Biddle, Physical activity and mental health: evidence is growing. World Psychiatry. 2016 Jun; 15(2): 176–177. Online at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4911759/
Grace McKeon & Simon Rosenbaum, Muscling Up on Mental Illness: How Exercise Can Help Both Body and Mind. Frontier for Young Minds, March 2019. Online at: https://kids.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/frym.2019.00035
Julius Ohrnberger, Eleonora Fichera, Matt Sutton, The relationship between physical and mental health: A mediation analysis. Social Science & Medicine 195 (2017) 42–49. Online at: https://reader.elsevier.com/reader/sd/pii/S0277953617306639?token=DC2C484157847BD69F8D69B5A5A7DACBD3BCC983D8E28EE801F39C276A0B7DD70C5029627DCF9DC2EB23FF1FE5113BE9
Magdalena Kruk , Karolina Zarychta, Karolina Horodyska, Monika Boberska, Urte Scholz, Theda Radtke, Aleksandra Luszczynska. What comes first, negative emotions, positive emotions, or moderate-to- vigorous physical activity? Mental Health and Physical Activity 16 (2019) 38–42. Online at: https://reader.elsevier.com/reader/sd/pii/S1755296618301613?token=4CBAF4E9242E5489F827501C021DEFCDE539878334A92889BC3627E40EE97A4FE28C4FB4BD9EF25849A1DFCDC4ECBBA3
Sama F Sleiman, Jeffrey Henry, Rami Al-Haddad, Lauretta El Hayek,Edwina Abou Haidar, Thomas Stringer, Devyani Ulja,Saravanan S Karuppagounder, Edward B Holson, Rajiv R Ratan, Ipe Ninan2, Moses V Chao. Exercise promotes the expression of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)through the action of the ketone body b-hydroxybutyrate. eLife 2016;5:e15092. Online at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4915811/pdf/elife-15092.pdf