Most of us have a good understanding of the benefits exercise has on our physical health, such as weight control, reduced risk of diabetes, and lower blood pressure.
However, physical activity does not stop there, as it greatly impacts our mental health as well. Throughout the pandemic, our mental health has taken a hit from job loss, gym closures, sports programs being shut down, and not being allowed to see family and friends. Physical activity has been proven by researchers to be beneficial for our mental health.
When we exercise, there are stress chemicals in our bodies that allow the brain to tolerate pressure1. As well, physical exercise can “reverse stress-induced brain damage by stimulating the production of neurohormones like norepinephrine, which not only improve cognition and mood but improve thinking clouded by stressful events.”2
Personally, I find running and lifting weights (things you can still do even during a pandemic) so beneficial in dealing with stress. These two activities, in particular, force me to focus solely on what I am doing at that very moment which, in turn, takes away the stressful distractions in my life.
Reduce Depression and Anxiety
Often when we feel anxious or depressed, exercise is the last thing we want to do. However, it can make a huge difference! Research has shown that people aged 18 to 64 who do not exercise the necessary 150 minutes per week reveal higher bouts of depression3. Studies show that group exercise helps keep us more occupied and energized4.
Unfortunately, the continued pandemic has put group exercise and team sports to a halt. Luckily, there are activities you can do such as running, walking, bike riding, rollerblading, throwing around a frisbee, and golfing. There are still activities we can do with others while abiding by the rules set by our respective governments. Brent Sweitzer, a licensed family therapist, says, “Exercising thirty minutes a day provides the same mood boost as taking a standard dose of Prozac, but without any side effects.”5
Exercising thirty minutes a day provides the same mood boost as taking a standard dose of Prozac, but without any side effects.
Physical activity is great not only for our mind and body but also for a good night’s sleep.
Charlene Gamaldo, medical director of Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep states, “We have solid evidence that exercise does, in fact, help you fall asleep more quickly and improves sleep quality”6. When you exercise, your body will get an improved amount of slow-wave, better known as deep sleep, while also steadying your mood and allowing the mind to unwind7.
No matter what sort of physical activity I am involved in, exercise greatly improves my ability to fall asleep faster. This is especially true when I am playing sports. Whether it is playing ultimate frisbee or walking eighteen holes of golf, physical exercise greatly improves my ability to sleep.
However, it is important to avoid performing physical activity too late and to exercise no more than one to two hours before going to bed, which will allow the brain time to wind down8. Now that it is summer, let’s choose to get outside and enjoy God’s creation!
Physical activity also proves to be a confidence booster. Exercise is about setting goals for yourself and learning how to achieve them. Personally, it has been through physical activity that I gained the knowledge of how to be disciplined. This gave me a sense of accomplishment and made me realize that I can accomplish anything I put my mind to.
Philippians 4:13 says, “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” Recently, I got into golf and quickly realized how frustrating it truly is. However, instead of giving up, I stuck with it and continued to practice. Through that, I gained confidence in myself that although it may be hard, I can get better.
Although physical activity can aid in our mental health, more important is our walk with Jesus. We need to continue to make him our first priority when we are feeling anxious, stressed, scared, or nervous. Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your mind in Christ Jesus”.
1 True Fitness. (2017, May 3). The Mental and Emotional Benefits of Exercise. True Fitness; True Fitness. https://truefitness.com/resources/mental-emotional-benefits-exercise/
2 Walden University. (2019, May 16). 5 Mental Benefits of Exercise | Walden University. Waldenu.edu; Walden University. https://www.waldenu.edu/online-bachelors-programs/bs-in-psychology/resource/five-mental-benefits-of-exercise
3 Anxiety, Depression Can Be Eased with 150 Minutes of Exercise a Week. (2020, February 14). Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health-news/exercise-helps-reduce-anxiety-depression#The-effects-on-mental-health
6 Exercising for Better Sleep. (2019). Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/exercising-for-better-sleep