Why is exercise good for us?
Since those very first PE sessions at school, undertaking exercise is something we are told we should do. Some people love it and some people hate it, while there are many people who have opinions in between, but exactly why is it good for us? There are in fact two very big reasons for why it is.
Of course, there is the obvious answer of keeping fit and healthy through exercise; to maintain or even lose weight (if that’s the goal) and to reduce the risk of many illnesses. Adults are advised by the NHS to be active every day, with the aim to do this for 150 minutes across a week. These 150 minutes could be through everyday life activities such as walking and cycling to work or to other places, taking part in sports, and taking part in other forms of exercise such as doing an exercise class. There are so many different ways to undertake exercise now, whether that is on your own, with another person, or in a group. Even playing football can be seen to be more about the game than the physical workout, which is another great reason for playing. All of these play an important part in those 150 minutes a week target.
The physical health benefits of exercise has an enormous amount of evidence to support it, such as lower risks of certain types of cancers, and joint problems, as well as a lower risk of developing dementia. The benefits of exercise for mental health is something that is becoming increasingly spoken about, especially at the moment with the restrictions in place due to the global pandemic. Physical exercise is also effective in dealing with anxiety, depression, stress and other mental health problems.
For most people who exercise, they feel the benefits such as having more energy, being able to sleep better at night, and feel more positive about themselves, as well as their lives. Therefore, it can also have a big positive impact on mental health. Research has found that exercise can treat mild to moderate depression as effectively as antidepressant medication, which I think is incredible, especially as there would be no side effects from taking exercise. The reasons for why exercise creates such a positive reaction is because it promotes changes in the brain that then promote feelings of wellbeing. Endorphins are also released which in turn then makes a person feel good.
Exercise can also be a distraction from someone thinking a cycle of negative thoughts which can contribute to being depressed. This is also similar with how exercise can help with anxiety; the constant worries that consume someone who has anxiety can be interrupted by instead putting their attention onto what their body is doing when exercising.
Along with relieving stress and tension for anxiety, exercise can be a focus on how the body feels when someone is under stress. Physical symptoms, such as muscle tension, pain, and headaches can add to how a person feels within themselves. By helping with the physical symptoms, the mind can also hugely benefit from it.
I’m sure a lot people dislike the thought of exercise before undertaking it – even those who regularly do, but the positive impact it has, both physically and mentally, can’t be denied. Keeping in mind how well you feel after a run, a bike ride, or any other form of exercise, is a great way of making sure that it’s a regular occurrence. Having something that can impact positively both on the body and the mind is great, and hopefully more and more people can realise the huge benefits of exercise in their everyday lives.
Sarah Keeping MBPsS MSc PgDip GDip BA (Hons) Cert HE
Follow Sarah on twitter at @keepingapproach