Study finds that physical activity may be the next best prescription for psych patients.

“The more that you believe that you are in control of your life, your actions, and your future, the happier and more successful you’ll be.”

-Mel Robbins

In light of recent researchdone at the University of Vermont exposing the benefits of exercise as treatment for those dealing with mental health diseases, I feel like it’s only fitting to dive deeper into why physical activity and exercise can only improve your mental health. 

The National Institute of Mental Healthreports that 1 in 5 adults live with a mental illness. That’s 46.6 million people. The number of people across the world dealing with mental health issues has only increased over time, maybe it’s that more people are talking about it, but in my opinion I feel like social media has had a HUGGGEEEE impact on this. Those who are 18-25 are reporting the highest percentage of mental illness. Constantly worrying about where your phone is, what your friends are doing, and or what your celebrity crush is up to, only leads to a life of constantly being anxious. Then again, maybe this was just my experience. 

Given these facts about the prevalence of mental illness, let’s talk about some things that we can all do to either prevent or alleviate some of these symptoms and take control of our lives a little bit at a time. In fact, whether you suffer from mental illness or not, the things that I am going to talk about here are good for everyone to do because they give us more control over our lives.

There are a number of chemicals that our bodies release when exercising that can only help improve the function of a large number of body systems. The most commonly talked about chemical messengers in respect to exercise are endorphins. These neurotransmitters allow you to reduce your perception of pain and relieve stress. It is the release of endorphins that allows some to experience a “runners high” when working out. Dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine are the specific neurotransmitters that are released during a session of exercise that help to regulate mood and increase a sense of well-being. (1)

As a person who has dealt with anxiety, I have learned to use exercise as a focal point to clear my brain and just simply concentrate on one or two goals for the day. Whether it be a walk around the neighborhood, a lifting session in the gym, or simply stretching at home, sometimes completing that task allows me to feel like I have accomplished something and am capable of completing the next. That positive feeling helps to grow the next positive feeling.

Similar to the rise of these chemical messengers and the beneficial balance that they bring about, there is a homeostasis or stability that is maintained by your body through the effects of stress hormones like adrenaline. We have all heard that a little stress in our lives is a good thing, but too much causes us to become burnt out. Exercise acts as an outlet for you to relieve stress. (2)This chemical reaction coupled with the physical exertion you put forth also improves sleep quality. (3)Although I feel like my boyfriend would argue this assertion what with my recent “sleep talking” episodes J.

Here are 5 things that you can do to help improve your mental, behavioral, or emotional well-being:

  • Go for a walk!
    • Bonus points if you have the chance to get outside and get some sun exposure. Don’t forget your sunscreen!
  • Stretch! 
    • Turn on some of your favorite music and just spend time exploring what stretches feel good to you. Never push yourself into pain!
    • We all get so stiff moving from our bed, to our office chair, and then home to the couch and back to bed.
  • Find a group exercise class that peaks your interest. 
    • Zumba could be your thing if you love to dance. 
    • Yoga is always a great option for those who are looking for a more insightful and slow paced practice
  • Do something you love that requires you to move. i.e. gardening, dancing, washing your car
  • Make lifestyle choices to work your physical activity into your daily life.
    • Park further away from the store, take the stairs or see if you can get a convertible desk so you can switch between standing and sitting.

As always, check with your doctor to ensure that you have clearance before starting a different activity or beginning an exercise program.

With all this being said, if you ever feel like you are in a dark place and simply need someone to talk to, reach out to someone or one of the many outlets that I have listed below. Always know that you are wanted, needed, loved, and appreciated. 

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration 1-800-662-4357

National Alliance on Mental Illness 1-800-950-6264

XO Mo

Be Kind. Be Patient. Be Present.

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