How Exactly Does Exercise Affect Our State Of Mind

In this day and age, it is evident that mental health is becoming a far less ‘taboo’ topic, with people feeling more comfortable discussing and sharing their own personal experiences in hope of inspiring others. Typically, when we talk about exercise, the focus is predominately on performance and fitness outcomes as opposed to the benefits of exercise on our mental health. In this blog, we will look at the impact that exercise has upon our bodies and minds, and how to utilise it in the best way possible.

Why should we exercise?

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Exercise induces a wide range of performance benefits such as muscle gain, weight loss, improved fitness, and so on. However, it’s also worth exploring the mental benefits of exercise like increased levels of self-esteem, the reduction of stress and anxiety, and solely exercising because you enjoy it!

So how exactly does exercise affect our state of mind?

When participating in physical activity, our brains release endorphins; our bodies’ natural ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitters. As a result of this, we experience the feeling of catharsis (a psychological state of relief), which automatically boosts our mood, and leads to enjoyment of the activity being performed.

Furthermore, as our endorphin levels increase, our cortisol levels lower meaning that we start to become a lot less stressed and anxious. Subsequently, we are then able to redirect our attention to exercising rather than daily stressors, meaning that we can then readdress these stressors with a fresh perspective and a calmer state of mind. Corresponding to this, lower cortisol levels can lead to the preservation of neurons in the memory areas of the brain, resulting in better information retention and retrieval.

For those of us that suffer with mental health, it is common to experience problems with our sleeping patterns, quality of sleep and energy levels. The physical exertion caused by exercise helps to maintain our circadian rhythm (our body clocks), which in turn, will help regulate our sleeping patterns and restore our energy.  

So what types of exercise do we need to do to optimise this?

The effectiveness of the exercises we do is dependent upon our personality types. For example, if you display more extroverted personality traits, team sports are likely to work better for you as they provide social opportunities, and the development of friendships, which help to prevent social anxiety, loneliness and depression.

If you display more introverted personality traits, you may prefer to work individually, in which activities like yoga may be more effective. Yoga aids relaxation and stress relief, therefore beneficial to those that suffer with uncontrollable negative thoughts.

Cycling and running are both effective methods of exercise that can be done wherever, by whoever. These forms of physical activity allow our thinking processes to run smoothly, giving us more control over our thoughts, therefore reducing our stress levels. These methods also help to ease impaired motor coordination and disorganised mental imagery; both common symptoms of mental illnesses.

Approximately one in four people in the UK suffer with mental health problems each year and so it is vital that we, as the Riverside team, try and do everything in our power to help those who may be suffering in silence. Quite often, when suffering with mental health problems, we often feel a lack of control over ourselves, our thoughts and our lives. However, exercise presents us with the opportunity to take back that control, so why not give it a go?

Written by Rhiannon, Duty Manager, Riverside Gloucester