It is often said that a healthy body can solve problems before they arise. As cliché as it may sound, exercise is one of the most effective ways to improve overall mental health. For those who are looking to improve their daily mindset or who have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder, exercise can serve as a complimentary therapy session. The act of focusing on the mind-body connection and dynamic physicality can be just as peaceful as meditation for those suffering from overwhelming feelings of anxiety, depression, stress, and other distracting mental clouds. In this way, pushing your body through exercise can serve a dual purpose as physical therapy to rehabilitate your brain and psychological therapy to enhance clarity and a positive mindset.
Our minds are complicated and delicate organs, but organs none the less. Our biology is wired in such ways that we can take back some of the power we loose when struggling with mental illness by controlling the naturally occurring chemical releases that happen. The most well-known benefit to exercise is in the release of endorphins and enkephalins, naturally occurring hormones that can elevate mood. Conversely, exercise can help eliminate cortisol, which is the opposing stress hormone. The delivery of oxygen and nutrients and improved blood flow that occurs when we exercise even allows us to increase the volume of certain brain regions such as the all-important hippocampus; involved in memory, emotion regulation, and learning.
Just as creative outlets can construct a safe space for you to separate yourself to escape negative mental loops, exercising your body can have the same effect. Physicality takes mental strength. Our minds are subconsciously working on what each part of our body needs to do to complete a task. Things like organized sports or dynamic workouts often take strategy and complete mental focus. In forcing the mind to work towards something that requires so much attention and energy you ultimately clear it of other thoughts and imagery that may not be serving you. Although you are exhausting your mind with tasks, you’re giving it a break from the regular cycles and loops that are often manifested when struggling with your mental health.
Exercise provides an illustration of alternative outlets people may use to cope with various mental health issues. However, it is not recommended that exercise be seen as a complete solution or alternative to medication or therapy in all cases. It is extremely important to gauge your mental health objectively with a medical professional to find the best solution for your overall wellbeing. Exercise is often recommended in combination with other therapeutic methods of mental health care. Expressing yourself through physical activity can be an empowering way to cope with mental illness as you allow yourself to take control of your body and mind at once, focusing physical and mental strength in a way you may struggle to do in your daily life.
Each province in Canada has its own comprehensive site where you can do online assessments to get more information about how you’re feeling. Ontario’s site is here, Alberta’s is here and B.C.’s is here. There are also sites for Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Yukon, Northwest Territories, Quebec, Newfoundland, New Brunswick, PEI, Nunavut and Nova Scotia.