William Stitt/ Unsplash
William Stitt/ Unsplash

Sport and exercise to improve mental health

Term three is a time where deadlines are looming over our heads, and exams are fast approaching. During this time, it is widely known that our mental health takes a kick, and often, self-care is put into the passenger seat, as we steer our way through to the end of term. While we all know that being physically active is good for our bodies, our physical health and mental health are closely linked – so physical activity can be very beneficial for our mental health and wellbeing too.

Exercise can not only relieve symptoms of depression but can also prevent relapse.

According to the NHS, adults (people aged 19-64) should be doing at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week, and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends that people with mild to moderate depression take part in about three sessions a week, lasting about 45 minutes to one hour, over 10 to 14 weeks.

Some studies suggest that exercise can be as effective a treatment for mild to moderate depression as antidepressant medication. While it must be said that exercise cannot always be a substitute for medication, it does come without the side-effects that may accompany drugs. It is also implied that exercise can not only relieve symptoms of depression but can also prevent relapse.

On top of being an effective treatment for depression, exercise is also a natural anxiety remedy. Sport or exercise can relieve tension and stress, boost physical and mental energy, and enhance general well-being through the release of endorphins. Some experts suggest that the best way to battle anxiety with sport is to also focus on the mindfulness aspect of the exercise you’re doing; focus on your body and how it feels when you exercise, focus on the rhythm of your breathing, or the feeling of your feet hitting the ground.

A couple of minutes of exercise or physical activity are better than nothing at all.

Stress is something that most of us are currently experiencing, and believe it or not, exercise can help you tackle that too. The release of endorphins during exercise helps to relax your muscles and relieve tension within your body. The links between the mind and the body are very close, and research suggests that once your body feels better, your mind will too.

While no one is saying that sport and physical exercise are the magic cure to all mental health issues, and that the amount of exercise recommended by professionals is more than intimidating to some of us, don’t despair just yet. A couple of minutes of exercise or physical activity are better than nothing at all. If you can’t commit to joining a university sports club, or struggle to motivate yourself to go for a run or a swim, maybe consider getting off the bus 2 stops before yours and walking home.

Start slow and work your way up; the more exercise you do, the more energy you’ll have, and eventually you’ll be ready to meet those scary guidelines. The key is to remain committed to whatever activity you choose, however quick. Sooner, or later, exercise will become one of your habits, just like telling yourself another episode of whichever binge-worthy Netflix show won’t harm your revision.

 

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