Great Minds: The Benefits of Exercise for Mental Health and Well-Being
Whether it’s a team sport or a walk around the block, exercise in all its forms can have a positive impact on mental well-being.
Whanganui nutritionist and fitness coach Audrey McCosh said the big thing
what happened when someone started getting active was the release of endorphins.
Endorphins are “feel-good” chemicals produced in the brain that relieve stress and pain.
“It boosts our self-esteem and self-confidence.
“Also, when we move, we sleep better. Sleep is basically when our bodies heal, so if we sleep well, we’ll wake up better and be less stressed and less anxious.”
McCosh, the former owner of the Revitalize Natural Health and Fitness Center, said going to a facility like a gym wasn’t necessary.
She encouraged people to “just move”.
“Even though I like the gym, it’s not for everyone.
“Walking is one of the best things you can do, and going to the beach and putting your bare feet on the sand.”
Elaine Hargreaves, an associate professor in the School of Physical Education, Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Otago, said that while the evidence was clear that physical activity boosts the state of mood, the problem of how to get people to do it remained.
The Department of Health recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity for adults.
Moderate intensity results in “a slight, but noticeable increase in respiratory and heart rate”, but people should still be able to carry on a conversation.
The way to get people to prioritize exercise was simply to see it as important, Hargreaves said.
“It doesn’t have to be half-hour blocks, it can be five or 10 blocks throughout the day.
“It seems strange that in our time we still go back to the idea that physical activity is difficult and horrible. In fact, it can be just a walk. Walk as long as you can.”
Nutrition also played a role, as it was impossible to “exercise” on a poor diet, McCosh said.
“If you’re eating rotten food and not giving your body nutrients, you’re not going to be healthy.
“Most of the time, if you’re exercising, you actually want to eat a little bit better. You don’t think ‘ah, I’m going to KFC now’.”
People had also forgotten how to breathe properly.
“Put your hand on your stomach and inhale through your nose for four counts, then exhale through your nose.
“As you exhale, you feel your shoulders begin to drop.
“Even if you do three or four breaths, three or four times a day, you will notice that you feel calmer.”
Sarah Tyler, a fitness instructor at Jane Winstone Retirement Village in Whanganui, said she always gets up early so she can start the day with some exercise.
“If I don’t, I feel like I’m missing something. I can also be grumpier.
“When I teach classes, I want people there to talk about the benefits to other residents.
“You’ll feel better, you’ll feel happier, and you’ll feel more confident.”
Tyler said she had suffered a lot from depression in the past and that physical activity had been very effective in countering it.
“When you’re exercising, you don’t tend to think about anything else going on, like ‘work is shit.’
“You’re doing something really positive for yourself.”
When going to the gym, she gave herself 10 minutes and if she didn’t feel like it, she went home, Tyler said.
“It’s only happened twice in three years. Usually you just think ‘Yeah, that’s really good’.”
Hargreaves said physical activity with other people was also beneficial.
“You have a sense of social connection in addition to the benefits of the exercise itself.
“It also provides a lot of motivation. There’s a hurdle if you can’t find someone to exercise with you, but if you do, it has a double effect.”
It was good to put yourself first, McCosh said.
“On a plane, when the masks come off, you put them on first because if you breathe, you can help someone else.
“If you’re fit and healthy, you’ll have more energy for husbands, wives, families, everyone.
“We tend to feel selfish if we stop and do something for ourselves. It’s really bad.”