The importance of exercise for your mental health

The importance of exercise for your mental health

In times of adversity you may have heard the saying ‘build a bridge and get over it’. That’s exactly what your brain does. Each time you learn something you, you start building a neural bridge, and the more you practice, the sturdier that bridge becomes. So, it comes as no surprise that exercising your brain is a ‘thing’. Most people are aware of the benefits of regular exercise for physical health, but you might be surprised by how greatly exercise benefits your mental health too.

The correlation between exercise and improved mental wellbeing is one of a range of important issues that will be explored at the upcoming NSW Regional Safety Conference & Expo.

According to a study led by the Black Dog Institute, regular exercise can alleviate symptoms of depression. The study was conducted by monitoring the exercise levels and symptoms of depression and anxiety of more than 30,000 adults over 11 years.

The study found that 12 per cent of cases of depression could have been prevented if participants exercised for at least one hour each week.

So, how exactly does exercise combat depression? Do I have to buy running shoes for my brain? Are there Lorna Jane tights for my mind? No…

Regular exercise promotes the release of feel-good chemicals in your brain, like serotonin and endorphins. Serotonin is used to regulate mood, sleep, libido, appetite and other functions. And endorphins in the brain have ‘mood-lifting’ properties.

On top of these feel-good effects, exercise may alleviate symptoms of depression by:

  • Increasing energy levels
  • Improving sleep
  • Distracting from worries and concerns
  • Providing social support and reducing loneliness if exercise is done in a group
  • Increasing a sense of control and self-esteem
  • Giving a sense of accomplishment as fitness improves and goals are achieved

Of course, the hardest part is getting started. Especially when sometimes the idea of getting out of bed can seem hard enough. For severe depression, exercise can play a major part in managing the condition in conjunction with your treatment or management plan.

The National Physical Activity Guidelines for Adults and Older Australians recommends that you exercise for a minimum of 30 minutes on most (preferably all) days of the week. The exercise should be of moderate intensity, which results in a noticeable slight increase in breathing and heart rate.

But if this seems unachievable, start small! It’s important to remember that any exercise is better than no exercise. Use the stairs instead of the lift or walk to the shops instead of driving. Being active in as many ways as possible will make all the difference.

Topics like this will be discussed at the NSW Regional Safety Conference & Expo being held in Newcastle, 4-5 July 2019, so after your morning walk, come along and join the discussion. A range of presenters will be sharing their insights on WHS, mental health and wellbeing. Purchase tickets here.

And if you need support, call these hotlines for 24/7 counselling.