Every year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) promotes and celebrates World Mental Health Day on 10th October. The aim is to ensure that as many people as possible are educated about the signs and effects of poor mental health, both in themselves and in those around them.
WHO recognise that good mental health enables somebody to make the most of their potential, cope, and indeed thrive, with life, play a meaningful, full role within their family and community and, hopefully, be happy as they do so.
Being in good mental and emotional health is as important as being in good physical health. It is as vital to our individual and collective well-being. Searching for a ‘gym near me’ is the first step to improving your mental health in the long run. This is what World Mental Health Day is set to recognise.
This year, the theme for World Mental Health Day is suicide prevention.
Mental health affects us all. Even if we haven’t all been diagnosed with a form of poor mental health, we have all been through periods of feeling stressed, anxious, down, frightened, or any number of negative emotions.
These feelings often pass. Sometimes they don’t: sometimes they develop into something more serious. Sometimes they get so bad that suicide looks like the only option. This is what World Mental Health Day is set to tackle this year- though, it’s important to note, the issue is an ongoing one, with no quick fix. Education, perseverance and vigilance of ourselves and those around us need to be constant.
Mental health isn’t fixed. Our mental health, like our physical health, can change as circumstances in our lives change. It can be hard to identify symptoms and to seek help- there is often a stigma attached to mental health concerns that people don’t want to deal with.
Breaking that stigma is a large part of Mental Health Day’s ongoing mandate.
With World Mental Health Day coming up, it’s important for those in the fitness industry to consider what they can do to help the fight against poor mental health. Exercise is one of the best things any individual can do to improve their mental health, and gyms and fitness professionals need to accommodate and foster it.
The benefits of exercise for mental health
If you’re wondering how to improve mental health, either in yourself or a loved one, a gym membership and a bit of encouragement may be just what is needed. To put it in simple terms, regular exercise gives people an enormous sense of wellbeing, counters many of the symptoms of stress and anxiety, boosts their confidence and lifts their mood.
In general, people will experience greater energy levels if they incorporate any form of exercise into their lives on a regular basis. Vasodilation improves, meaning more oxygen and nutrient rich blood being sent around the body. Insulin resistance is improved, as are several similar metabolic markers, so that energy is used more efficiently, evenly and appropriately. Muscular endurance will improve, meaning less overall fatigue. Endorphins released will give a natural high, elevating mood and further enhancing energy levels.
Sleep also generally improves with the inclusion of regular exercise. With a good workout every couple of days, you should sleep better, nodding off faster and reaching REM deeper and more consistently. Short-term memory and general cognition will improve in short order, giving you greater clarity and the agency to overcome many of the barriers that life may throw your way.
These are just a few of the reasons, painted in broad strokes, that exercise will improve mental health. Conditions such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, and more will all benefit greatly from an active lifestyle.
Let’s be clear, this doesn’t mean becoming an athlete. Hardcore training isn’t needed. Modest amounts of exercise- a daily walk, fitness classes a couple of times per week, a spot of swimming- will bring about really quite profound effects.
Common mental health conditions
There are several common mental health conditions for which exercise can be a fantastic supplementary treatment, halting or even eradicating symptoms. Some of these include:
Depression is incredibly pertinent to this year’s theme of suicide prevention. It affects a great many people and can be incredibly detrimental to an individual’s wellbeing. It is also a key area in which exercise can be very beneficial.
Exercise can work as an antidepressant. The structure of regular training sessions and the endorphins released during physical activity help to get people out of their low. Regular exertion boosts the brain’s dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels, all of which affect mood, focus and attention.
A healthy, structure pattern and routine- like gym or fitness class attendance, for example- can greatly diminish the risks and severity of depressive episodes, whilst the process of exercise itself can actively make you feel happier and more positive.
Anxiety and stress
Anxiety and stress are often key underlying factors in depression. Treating and lessening them in individuals is also therefore crucial in meeting this year’s Word Mental Health Day’s theme.
Exercise is well-known for relieving anxiety and stress. The improved mental energy, clarity and focus and the endorphin release involved are natural treatments for anxiety. The meditative nature of certain exercises can really help to reduce both and promote mindfulness.
Adding a mindfulness element to any routine- trying to focus on your body, the movements you’re undertaking, the feelings and sensations at play- will be go a long way relieving overall anxious behaviour.
Then there is the sheer unburdening of stress that comes with many forms of exercise. If you’re feeling tightly wound, putting that excess energy into something constructive like pushing yourself in the gym can be incredibly helpful.
Mental stress often manifests as physical stress, with some quite profound attendant physical issues and discomforts. Muscular tension, particularly across the back, head and neck, are all common with those suffering from stress. Tightness in the chest, muscle cramps and headaches are also quite regular occurrences, and it can get worse. Problems such as insomnia, heartburn, stomach-ache, diarrhoea, and frequent urination are all common.
Enhanced vasodilation and regular stretching and mobility work- all hallmarks of most fitness routines- will be of great benefit to anybody suffering from either physical or mental tension, or both.
Anger and aggression
Anger and aggression are often closely linked with stress and anxiety, or with trauma, which we will mention shortly. For the same reasons that exercise can help to manage symptoms of these, it can help to manage anger and aggressive tendencies. The endorphins released- the dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin- will all help to induce a state of positive wellbeing. This will generally counter a great deal of aggressive, anger fuelled behaviour. In particular, mindfulness, relaxing styles of exercise like yoga can help somebody work through their anger.
Anger can also often be the result of depression which, as we have seen, is one of the main beneficiaries of an active lifestyle filled with regular exercise.
Aside from this, hard, physical training can also help you to give vent to the aggression bound up inside, as mentioned above. If you have that aggressive energy, let it out in a constructive way. Take it into the weights room, work a punch bag, sweat it out in your favourite fitness classes- better there than out in the real world.
Depression, anxiety, aggression and a lack of focus are common in those who have experienced trauma or who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As we’ve already seen through, exercise can help a great deal with combating these symptoms and bringing about a more positive, healthy mindset.
PTSD and trauma are often characterised by an immobilisation stress response in the body’s nervous system. Shifting focus instead onto the sensations of the body, as regular exercise forces you to do, will often help to reverse this process. It will help to retrain the body out of this response.
Paying attention to movements, treating it like a meditative process, can be of particular use, here. Forms of exercise that promote multi-directional movements are best: climbing, swimming and yoga are all good ones to try.
Of course, there are many more mental health conditions that can be aided by exercise. Pretty much any form of mental health concern can benefit at least in some small way from living an active lifestyle. Depression, anxiety and stress- three big contributors to suicide- will all definitely be eased through exercise.
If you are struggling with your mental health, or if you know somebody who is, medical advice should be sought in the first instance. Then, with a doctor’s input, regular exercise should be included in any recommended treatment schedule.