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Wellness Wednesday: This is how physical activity can positively influence your mental well-being

The idea that movement solely brings physical advantages arises from a limited grasp of the complex interaction between the body and the mind. While the undeniable physical benefits of exercise include enhanced cardiovascular health and increased muscular strength, the mental and emotional advantages are equally significant and frequently undervalued. Here, Registered Counsellor, Melissa Smith sheds some light.

“One reason for this misconception is the traditional emphasis on the visible, measurable outcomes of physical activity, ” says Melissa. Noting that the focus tends to be on changes in weight, muscle tone, or cardiovascular fitness, neglecting the less tangible, yet equally vital, impact on mental health. And she affirms that “although the intangible benefits such as improved mood, reduced stress, and enhanced cognitive function, are not as readily apparent, they are nonetheless crucial components of overall well-being.”

Further noting that another contributing factor is the societal tendency to compartmentalize physical and mental health, treating them as separate entities. “This separation perpetuates the belief that activities promoting physical health, like exercise, are distinct from those supporting mental well-being.” Enlightening that in reality, the mind-body connection is intricate and bidirectional, meaning that physical activity has profound implications for mental health, and vice versa.

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It is also worth noting that cultural norms and historical perceptions often reinforce the idea that exercise is primarily a means of achieving a certain body aesthetic or physical fitness level. Melissa cautions that this narrow perspective may overshadow the broader mental and emotional benefits, contributing to the misconception that movement is solely for physical outcomes.

She enlightens that taking care of our mental health should include a holistic approach to make sure we function optimally. Affirming that mindfully approaching movement activities can have many benefits for our mental health.

Below, she lists the benefits of movement in relation to mental health:

Movement Reduces Stress and Anxiety Exercise and physical activity help to reduce stress and anxiety by releasing endorphins, which are natural mood boosters. Additionally, exercise can provide a healthy outlet for pent-up emotions and a break from the stressors of daily life.

Movement Improves Mood Physical activity can increase levels of serotonin and dopamine, neurotransmitters that regulate mood. Studies have shown that exercise can be an effective treatment for depression, potentially reducing symptoms and improving overall mood.

Movement Boosts Self-Esteem Regular physical activity can improve self-esteem and confidence by helping individuals to feel better about themselves physically and mentally. Additionally, accomplishing fitness goals can provide a sense of achievement and accomplishment.

Movement Increases Resilience Regular physical activity can improve an individual’s ability to cope with stress and adversity, increasing overall mental resilience. This can improve the ability to handle unexpected challenges and overcome difficult situations.

Movement Enhances Cognitive Function Physical activity can improve cognitive function, including memory, focus, and attention. This can lead to improved productivity, increased creativity, and better decision-making abilities.

Movement Improves Sleep Physical activity can improve sleep quality and quantity, which can in turn improve mental health. Better sleep can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, increase energy levels, and improve overall well-being.

Movement Promotes Social Connection Participating in group fitness classes or team sports can provide social connections and a sense of community, reducing feelings of isolation and loneliness.

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In times of adversity when maintaining a positive outlook becomes challenging and cognitive flexibility is limited, engaging in physical activity can offer a beneficial avenue. “Whether through individual workouts, contemplative solitary walks, or synchronized exercise routines with a partner, incorporating movement into your routine can serve as an alternative path to achieving the desired mental shifts,” says Melissa. Affirming that this approach provides a pathway to evoke the desired psychological changes without necessitating a conscious effort to persuade oneself into a more positive mindset. She recommends finding an activity that you enjoy and make it a regular part of your routine to reap the many benefits that movement can provide.

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