Much attention has been given to the mental health benefits of regular exercise. It plays an important role in managing our mood, reducing stress, and assists with the recovery and treatment of mental health illnesses.
There are, however, a few lesser-known mental health benefits of exercise, that can make a world of difference to how we feel each day, our resilience, and how we thrive when things get tough.
1. Exercise improves your sense of control, coping ability and self-esteem.
If you’ve ever powered through 10 burpees or 15 push-ups in a row, you’ll know the hugely gratifying feeling at the end. Yes, it may be hard and you’ll probably be panting a bit, but deep down there’s also an enormous sense of achievement. Particularly if you didn’t think you could do it!
Then multiply that feeling a few times each week, it’ll rewire your brain to be more resilient and better able to cope and adapt to challenges. Each class you attend will give you the opportunity to push beyond your self-set boundaries, and you’ll feel like you can do anything!
Why didn’t anyone tell me that exercise can be so empowering, you wonder.
When we’re feeling out of control, unable to cope, or having doubts in our abilities, reflecting on how far you’ve come in your training is enough to raise your self-esteem sky-high! – you may have struggled with doing just 2 push-ups at the beginning, and now you could do 15 in a row. You think to yourself – ‘Whoa! If I can do that, then I can get through [insert your personal struggle]!’
And that’s exactly the type of confidence boost exercise gives you.
2. Exercise can remove negative thoughts and let out frustrations, and provide opportunities to try new experiences.
Ok, we’re being a little sneaky and packed more than just one mental health benefits in this one.
A good exercise session is a mindful experience. In the words of our member, Deb, ‘when you’re doing a class at Leap, it’s mindfulness time. It slows down the overall pace of your life. You become aware of the movements consciously, and you flow between focus and awareness, as opposed to being distracted or just going through the motions without awareness.’
You emerge from mindful exercise experiences like these feeling calmly energised and renewed!
When we feel feel angry or frustrated, having a safe and healthy outlet is key. Other than venting to a close friend, a bout of cardio amongst a supportive exercise community will see you smiling and laughing in no time!
If you’ve ever attempted slam balls, you’ll know what we’re talking about. (Of course, we’ll show you how to do it correctly to prevent from getting hurt!)
Exercise gives you the opportunity to have many new experiences. Leaning a new movement or a new Yoga pose are all examples of a new experience for your body and mind. To keep our brains young and healthy, we need the stimulation only new experiences can give us.
Exercise stimulates your brain with the ‘new’, and it’s also been scientifically proven to increase the production of BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor) which helps with our memory and learning ability.
3. Exercise helps you feel more relaxed by reducing muscle tension.
Many people come to our studio saying they feel like they need to move because their bodies feel tight and uncomfortable from sitting all day.
This isn’t just a feeling. It’s true! – our bodies tense up by being in a stationery position for too long (a few hours a day). A tense body can lead to a tense mind through the mind-body connection.
Our bodies are built to move; it doesn’t have to be vigorous like running 5km, small and gentle movements will do the trick in eliminating that feeling of being tight and uncomfortable.
How does the Leap team do it?
We even have quick stretch videos you can do from your desk, without having to get changed or lay out a mat!
BONUS – Exercise offers an opportunity to socialise and build a social network if you exercise with others.
Group exercise doubles the mental health benefit of exercise because it brings a social element to the experience.
Strong social connections and good mental health go hand-in-hand. [For more info, read this article from the Victoria Health.]
You don’t have to be a social butterfly to benefit, simply by being in the company of others can reduce the feeling of loneliness and isolation. If you’re in a supportive community, like Leap, you’ll soon meet some incredible people who you’ll want to strike up a conversation with each time you come to class.
BONUS TIP: strong, healthy relationships help to strengthen your immune system, help you recover from disease, which is something we all want right now, isn’t it?