Can exercise really make us happier?
According to Beyondblue, three million Australians live with depression or anxiety in any given year and 45 per cent of us will suffer from mental illness at some point in our lives. Anxiety and depression can manifest in different ways including physical, emotional or behavioural. Some common symptoms include sleeplessness, lack of energy, loss of appetite, feeling isolated and alone, sadness, frustration and withdrawal from friends and family.
The encouraging news is that there are ways to manage and minimise the symptoms. While speaking with a mental health professional is an important step, evidence suggests that exercise can make us feel happier.
The New York Times recently reported on several studies that found that people who engaged in even a small amount of exercise experienced better mental health compared to those who didn’t exercise at all.
So how can exercise help?
- Improves mood – According to mindhealthconnect, exercise can make you feel happier because it elevates the levels of mood-lifting endorphins and serotonin in the brain.
- Helps you reconnect with others – Joining an exercise group is not only a great way to stay motivated, it also allows you to connect with others and to socialise in a healthy environment. You can encourage one another throughout your workout, meet new people and enjoy a few laughs along the way.
- Reduces stress – Research suggests that individuals with improved levels of fitness manage stress more effectively than those who are less fit.
- Increases energy levels – A review of 70 studies on exercise and fatigue, involving more than 6,800 people, suggested that exercise increases energy and reduces fatigue. “More than 90 per cent of the studies showed the same thing: Sedentary people who completed a regular exercise program reported improved fatigue compared to groups that did not exercise,” said researcher Patrick O’Connor. “It’s a very consistent effect.”
- Improves sleep – Regular exercise improves sleep quality and duration. In one study, participants who exercised for 20 to 40 minutes, four times per week reported that their sleep quality improved, raising their diagnosis from ‘poor’ to ‘good’ sleeper. Yoga is another form of exercise which can help you get a better night sleep.
Where to begin
The Australian Government guidelines recommend adults do at least 30 minutes of exercise per day, three times a week. A Finnish study of more than 3,000 participants suggested that individuals who exercised at least two to three times a week experienced significantly less depression, anger, cynical distrust, and stress than those exercising less frequently or not at all.
Thirty minutes could include anything from walking the dog to a game of tennis with friends. It’s also important to take advantage of incidental exercise opportunities. This means taking the stairs instead of the elevator, for example, or walking to the shops instead of driving. If you have an office job, make sure you get up from your desk regularly and move around every hour.
Find something you enjoy
It’s important to find a type of exercise that you enjoy so it’s something you can look forward too, rather than viewing it as some sort of punishment. Doing something that you love will make your new regime easier to maintain. There are plenty of fun workout options out there and it’s a good idea to try and few different types until you find something that really works for you.
Set yourself a goal
If you’re struggling with motivation try and set yourself a challenge or goal. It could be as simple as going for a 10 minute walk each morning, or it could be more ambitious like entering an event such as the City2Surf. Be careful not to compare yourself to others. Set goals that you honestly want to have, start small and celebrate every achievements along the way.
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