Bhave Institute of Mental Health

Bhave Institute of Mental Health

Work out your way to happiness

The word exercise can elicit different emotions in us. Dread, excitement, passion to name a few. If you have had a love-hate (or mostly hate) relationship with exercise, today you may change your mind. If any of you have visited any mental health professional (psychiatrist/psychologist), they would have asked you to make lifestyle changes. Especially adding exercise to you daily routine. Why is that? Exercise has undisputed physical benefits that include improved stamina, reduction of blood pressure, improved heart health, better sugar control and prevention of chronic illness like diabetes, hypertension, osteoporosis etc.

There is irrefutable evidence that exercise benefits our mental health & is therapeutic in some mental illnesses. There are two main ways in which this happens.

The first is physiological. Moderate intensity exercise releases a burst of “endorphins” in our brain. Ever felt that runner’s high? Or the feeling that your problems have melted away after a good workout? That’s because endorphins are body’s natural anti-depressants or ‘feel good chemicals’. This results in a positive mood and an overall enhanced sense of well-being. This improved mood continues for many hours post exercise. This explains the ‘high’ that many people experience post workout. Additional good news for students and working individuals because exercise has been proven to enhance concentration and improve focus.

Everyone who has exercised has experienced an increase in the core body temperature. This leads to an overall feeling of relaxation and reduction in muscle tension (the same way a hot bath makes someone feel relaxed).

Physical exercise positively impacts mental health via psychological mechanisms too. Exercise helps by distracting us from our worries and depressing thoughts. People suffering from low self-esteem or depression often suffer from feeling inefficacious and negative self-view. Exercise brings about a sense of mastery over a skill which helps in improving their self-esteem. If nothing else, being able to lift that heavy suitcase or not running out of breath as you climb stairs is bound to be a confidence booster!

What are the recommendations for exercise?

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that adults should engage in exercise at least 30 minutes every day, at least 5 days a week. It should be a moderate intensity exercise. For someone who isn’t used to exercising, it is recommended to start slowly and choose an activity they enjoy (for e.g., Cycling, jogging, swimming etc). If the above recommendations sound daunting, fear not. For beginners the goal can be 3 exercise sessions per week for a manageable length of time. This can be gradually increased. Setting small achievable goals is important as it makes continuation of exercise program more likely. Very often, people start with a bang, setting very difficult goals and the enthusiasm fizzles out equally fast. This is definitely a story where slow and steady always wins.

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