Exercise as medicine for the mind

I am sure you have heard that exercise is important in maintaining your physical well-being as it improves your cardiovascular and general health, but did you know that exercise can also to help keep you mentally healthy?

Given the current NSW COVID-19 restrictions things haven’t been as normal as they used to be. The lack of social interaction with family and friends, ability to travel and explore and exercise in areas outside your 5km radius have really taken a toll on peoples mental well-being. A reduced mental state can lead to increased stress, reduced fitness levels thus reduced physical well-being, lack of sleep, increased negative thoughts and can also lead to development of mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety.

Exercise has been shown to help with improving mental health, reduce the risk of developing mental illnesses and also help with treating some mental health conditions like depression and anxiety.

Why Exercise?

The major benefits of exercise on one’s physical health is the reduction in the risk of illnesses such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, cancer, Parkinson’s Disease, dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. It helps people recover from musculoskeletal, neurological, cardiovascular and other injuries/illnesses/conditions. It helps you with weight loss and weight/strength gain, each of which are important for your overall health depending on what you need.

So what are the benefits of exercise on mental health? Here is a list of some of these:

  • Improves your sleep patterns and sleep cycle – makes you sleep better and with a better sleep you are in a better mood
  • Improves your sense of control – you improve your self-esteem, your confidence, independence and coping strategies
  • Provides a distraction from the same environment you have been spending most time in thus offering an opportunity to see and experience something new
  • Distracts you from any negative thoughts
  • Offers the opportunity to socialise; reduces feelings of loneliness and isolation and puts you in touch with other people
  • Boosts serotonin and endorphin levels in your brain which help improve your mood – this can also reduce reliance on medication
  • Increases your energy levels – makes you feel more motivated throughout the day
  • Can be used as an outlet for your stress and frustrations
  • Pumps more blood to the brain which can help you think more clearly; increases concentration and attention

What type of exercise is beneficial to improve one’s mental health? 

Multiple studies have shown that an exercise/physical activity program following the guidelines below is likely to be beneficial in improving ones mental health.

The guidelines include:

  • Frequency: Aerobic training most days of the week (this can include walking, cycling, etc.). Resistance  training can be done on 2 non-consecutive days each week (this can include free weights, elastic bands, etc.)
  • Intensity: Low to moderate intensity is recommended. You can also adjust the intensity based on your capacity.
  • Time: Recommended between 30-60 minute sessions. Depending on your capacity you can increase this time or even start off small. Small amounts such as 5-10 minutes is shown to be effective and gradually build up your tolerance. You can also do these shorter intervals more frequently throughout the day versus an extended time in one go.
  • Type: The most important thing when doing exercise is that the activity is enjoyable for you. Aerobic activity includes walking, cycling, swimming and jogging. Resistance training includes the use of free weights, weight machines, bodyweight or resistance bands.

Given the current NSW COVID-19 restrictions you may not be able to access the gym to do certain exercises. However, the good part is that this is not the end of the world! There are lots of exercises for both aerobic and resistance training that can be done with little to no equipment.

With the Winter season at its end and Spring approaching the weather is getting warmer so it is great to go outside and enjoy the fresh air and warm sun. If you need ideas for exercises you can check out our Instagram and give us a follow at aspiresportsphysio – we regularly upload videos of different exercises you can do for fitness and strength training utilising the space outdoors and with little to no equipment needed.

I haven’t exercised before how do I get started?

By thinking about wanting to exercise you have already passed the first step. The next step is actually starting it, and this is the hardest step for most. Everybody is different in the way they start  and get into a routine for exercise, some may continue consistently while others need a few days or a week to regenerate. And that is completely fine. Here are some tips if you are just starting out:

  • Start small – you don’t need to complete a whole time chunk such as 60 or even 30 minutes of physical activity. Setting big goals that may not be achievable from the first go may change your opinion on the idea if you don’t reach those goals. As mentioned above, small bouts of 5-10 minutes are a good start. You can do this daily and if your energy levels have increased and you feel motivated you can do these short bouts more frequently throughout the day, and gradually increase that time.
  • Focus on activities you enjoy – with the current COVID-19 restrictions in NSW it may be difficult to do some things you enjoy like going to the gym, walking on the beach, walking a group etc. But that doesn’t matter! Any activity that gets you moving counts! This includes walking your dog, going for a shopping run, going for a coffee run. Maybe you can even start on a home project or even start at home e.g. mowing the lawn, cleaning the house, washing the windows. Be creative!
  • Reward yourself – we feel good when we accomplish something and that deserves a reward. This will motivate you further to continue with this path. Watch an extra episode of your favourite series, make yourself a delicious dessert, or even have a nice warm bubble bath.
  • Exercise when your energy levels are at their peak – if you’re a morning person who likes to get things done before work/school/uni get a morning workout in. If you prefer afternoons/evenings after work/uni/school you can do this later in the day after finishing our other activities. If you’re not sure – that’s okay – you can experiment with different times and find what suits you.

If you are unsure about where to begin, what is best for you or need some guidance on what to do, you can go see a physiotherapist or an exercise physiologist. These are highly trained professionals who can prescribe exercise programs and provide education about exercise and staying fit and active to people with and without mental health conditions.

At Aspire Physiotherapy we have a team of physiotherapists and exercise physiologists who have been helping people on a daily basis, and we can help you.

Stay active and stay safe.


aspire physioaspire physio liverpoolcovid 19exerciseexercise physiologylets get movingLiverpool physiomental healthphysiophysio liverpoolsouthwest Sydney

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