Most of us can anecdotally say that we feel better when we exercise. Even if it’s the last thing you feel like doing, you know that you will thank yourself afterwards. The physical effects are quite clear, but the benefits to our mental health are equally as important. Not only is there an instant rush of chemicals and hormones that make us feel energised and alive, there are also longer term positive effects for our general mental wellbeing.
So how exactly does exercise affect our mental health?
Exercise stimulates the release of endorphins, which are the chemicals associated with feelings of happiness, pleasure and even pain relief. Apart from exercise, these chemicals are released during laughter, love, chocolate and sex - all the good things!
The term 'runner's high’ refers to the feeling people get after a run as a result of a large release of endorphins. The good news is, you don’t need to run to get this high. Any kind of exercise can have the same effect, so if Pilates, yoga, strength training or walking are more your style, then you can still enjoy the immediate post-exercise rush of endorphins.
Exercise can also be a natural way to relieve pain. Endorphins cause a similar effect to opioid medications, without the harmful side effects. We know how closely chronic pain conditions are linked to reduced mental health, so finding a form of exercise that works for your body can be a great way to relieve pain and improve your mood without the need for medication. This can be particularly helpful for people with pelvic inflammatory conditions (endometriosis, adenomyosis), headaches and lower back pain.
But it’s not just the short term effects of exercise, endorphins have also been shown to have longer lasting benefits to our mental health. Regular exercise and higher levels of endorphins has also been shown to result in lower rates of depression, anxiety and stress, improved mood and increased self-esteem.
In case that isn’t enough to convince you, there are also more general ways that exercise can benefit your mental health:
- Distraction: clearing your head by focusing your mind on something other than your stress; it sounds simple but it really does work.
- Achievement: Setting goals and achieving them gives you a sense of purpose and can do wonders for your confidence and self-esteem, which is a great way to boost your mood and feel better about yourself.
- Improved sleep: We know how important good sleep is to our overall health, including our mental health. It’s much easier to look forward to things and feel happy when you are getting good sleep.
- Socialisation: Exercise can give you the opportunity to socialise with like-minded people. Whether that’s by playing a team sport, showing up to your local Park Run, seeing familiar faces at your local studio or connecting with others online. A strong social network can provide you with support and connection which is associated with mental wellbeing.
When it comes to exercising, it is so important to find something you enjoy. As soon as exercise becomes a chore, it becomes highly unlikely that you will keep it up. I don’t want to think about how many gym memberships I’ve had in the past that have gone completely unused. There are so many different ways to move your body, so keep trying new things until you find something that feels good to you. If you’re just getting started, set achievable goals to begin with and build up gradually. If you’re more experienced, try following a program so that you have something to stick to for motivation.
If you are unsure whether Pilates is appropriate for you, we offer a 7 day free trial. This means you can try it out and decide if you like it before you are charged a cent! If you have any questions, please reach out, I am very happy to answer any questions you may have. You can contact me through our instagram DMs at @ourpilates or via email at email@example.com.