Mental Health & Exercise

The active pursuit of activities, choices, and lifestyles that lead to a state of holistic health has hugely increased over the last decade – we know more about health, wellness and the impact certain choices have on our body and mind than ever before.

More specifically when we talk about exercise, there is a general consensus that increased exercise is associated with a reduced risk of illnesses such as diabetes, stroke and cardiovascular disease but we are now starting to understand it’s important association with mental health.

One of the most recent and largest studies to date evaluated 1.2million people and their relationship to exercise and their mental wellbeing. It revealed that those who exercised, reported better mental health or less ‘bad days’ per month than those who didn’t. All exercise types were associated with better health with team sports, cycling and aerobic/gym activities having the most positive impact.  This study has come under fire as some have honed in on the data that revealed those reporting the highest levels of exercise reported poorer mental health, which led to some interpreting that high levels of exercise (more than 6 h per week, or about 52 min per day) has an adverse effect on mental health. However, this data cannot be simplified in this way. We all interpret ‘bad days’ differently and self-reporting data in studies can be an issue. It is also known that in such studies over reporting of exercise is common and may have an impact on overall results. Additionally, there is no scientific research to support that high levels of exercise contribute to poor mental health. It has been found however that 90 minute stints of energetic exercise produce positive neurobiological responses, activating the endocannabinoid system and upregulating brain derived neurotrophic factor, which is known to activate the ‘antidepressant benefits of exercise’.

Within a nutritional programme activity levels are taken into consideration as not just nutritional habits are assessed. The holistic approach is about looking at everything that might be affecting health.  Sleep is also considered, as is general behavioural habits which might be negativity impacting upon health. I touch upon this in my next blog…have a read if you have a spare 10 minutes.