Recently I completed a certification course on mental health from Alison Education, and it gave me very valuable insights on mental illness and the importance of well-being. This article aims to share those learnings.

We often take our health for granted and it is only when an alarming situation shows up, we realize the importance of the time we DID NOT invest in our health.  We could be a different story altogether if we take charge of our lives in our own hands. External factors will always be there to influence, slow us down or completely try to destroy us but we need to be thick and strong to face them, looking them into the eye and ask them to back off.

But how? How can we be that strong to deal with any such situation in our life? No, we do not need to have superpowers, but we need to have some physical strength which will, in turn, keep us in a good mood and enhance our mindfulness.

As per the WHO (World Health Organization), 330 million people are suffering from some sort of mental distress. It is estimated that as many as 25 percent of the population suffers from mild to moderate depression, anxiety, and other emotional disorders.  Some cope with these disorders individually, without professional or medical assistance and physical activity in a natural environment can be a promising aid for such people.

Psychological benefits of physical activity

Mental health and wellness is the absence of mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety, and the ability to cope with daily challenges in a positive, optimistic and constructive manner.  And physical activity can have a positive effect on various aspects of mental health and psychological well-being, such as depression, mood and cognitive function.

Exercise can prevent or reduce the extent of mental illnesses such as depression and it is also believed to have a positive effect on self-esteem in adults. It can also enhance mood and reduce stress levels, thus allowing us to tackle daily challenges in a more positive, optimistic and constructive way.

It has been suggested that one in six adults in Great Britain suffers from a mental health condition, such as depression or anxiety#, which makes the effective treatment of these conditions an issue of great importance. Also, because people differ greatly, explanations for improvements to mental health may vary according to the person concerned.

How can exercise help in reducing stress?

Anti-depression medication is often prescribed to treat depression, but compliance with taking these medications is often poor and they can have negative side effects*.

Exercise has been suggested as an alternative or additional treatment to medication and other treatments.  It has been shown that exercise has a positive effect on mental health, but in practice, it can be difficult to pinpoint the exact reasons why.

Psychological benefits of physical activity

  • positive change in self-perception and well-being
  • improvement in self-confidence and awareness
  • positive changes in mood
  • relief of tension
  • relief of feelings such as depression and anxiety
  • decrease in pre-menstrual tension
  • increased sense of mental well-being
  • increased alertness and clear thinking
  • increase in energy and ability to cope with daily activity
  • increased enjoyment of exercise and social contact
  • developing positive coping strategies

It seems that an exercise duration of 20 to 30 minutes at least 3 times per week could result in desirable psychological benefits or could even be sufficient for stress reduction%,&. 60 minutes may result in even more psychological benefit.@,^

Physical Activities to choose from

  • Staying close to nature helps in reducing stress.
  • Swimming or any aerobic activity or weight training is as effective as different forms of psychotherapy and has an anti-depressant effect if followed regularly.
  • Yoga, meditation or Pranayam also helps in reducing stress level and increasing vigour.

However, other recreational activities, such as ball games, aquatics, and the like, can be psychologically advantageous as well.

In summary, the potential psychological benefits of being actively involved in regular vigorous physical activity programs are as follows:

  • Exercise is associated with reduced state anxiety
  • Exercise has been associated with a decreased level of mild to moderate depression
  • Long-term exercise is usually associated with reductions in traits such as neuroticism and anxiety
  • Exercise may be an adjunct to the professional treatment of severe depression
  • Exercise results in the reduction of various stress indices
  • Exercise has beneficial emotional effects across all ages and in both genders
  • Exercise as a dose could help measure the current and past state of an individual

If we go by the evidence and supporting scholarly articles we can believe in this method of overcoming stress and fighting any mental illness. However, to justify it on a universal level, the accumulation of scientific evidence is vital in research.

The more the evidence there is of a positive link between physical activity and mental health, the more likely it is that the healthcare services will be directed towards providing exercise as a treatment for mental health conditions instead of drug or medication, to combat their long-term side effects.

As more people adopt a healthy lifestyle and get into physical exercise, governments and institutions will take steps to invest in exercise as a means of treatment for such conditions. Otherwise the hospital bills and the side effects of the prolonged illness are no less than a cause of stress to the individual and family members supporting them in their treatment journey.

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