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The Power of the Gym: Mental Health Benefits of Exercise

Environmental Psychologist and Wellbeing Consultant

The Power of the Gym: Mental Health Benefits of Exercise

Going to the gym (and exercise in general) isn’t solely about getting fitter and building muscle. Sure, several gym sessions a week will enhance physical health, help you build the physique you desire, tighten your waist, boost your sex life, and potentially even extend your life – but these aren’t always the reasons people frequent the gym on a regular basis.

The sense of well-being felt after a workout is one of the most common reasons why people go to the gym. Going to the gym has a myriad of positive physical benefits, but it can also increase energy levels throughout the day, improve sleep duration and quality, induce feelings of positivity, and reduce stress and anxiety. 

Frequent exercise can have a significant positive effect on mental health issues, such as ADHD, depression, stress, and anxiety. Let’s take a look at the positive mental health effects associated with going to the gym in more detail.

Exercise and Depression

Research has shown that going to the gym can treat mild to moderate depression to the same extent antidepressant medication can – without the negative side effects associated with these drugs. For example, one study found that jogging for 15 minutes or walking for 60 minutes decreases the risk of serious depression by 26%. Furthermore, research also indicates that frequent exercise and sticking to a routine can help stop you from relapsing.

Exercise induces a wide range of changes in the brain, including reduced inflammation, neural growth, and new brain cell activity pattern that facilitate feelings of well-being and calm. Furthermore, it also promotes the release of endorphins, which are super-potent chemicals that make you feel euphoric. Gong to the gym also gives you a distraction and allows you time to break the negative thought cycle, which commonly feeds depression. 



Exercise and Anxiety

Going to the gym is also a 100% natural way to reduce anxiety. It can help to relieve stress and tension, promote endorphin release, and boost mental energy. To get the most out of exercise sessions, it is best to pay attention rather than zone out. For example, focus on your breathing, or the sound of your feet hitting the ground, or each repetition as you push the weight. By doing this, you add a ‘mindfulness’ element to your workout, which will not only help you to put everything you have into the workout, but also help to interrupt the flow of stress, worries, and anxiety flowing through your head.

Exercise and Stress

If you’re feeling stressed, it’s highly likely that your body will be tense, with the muscles in your back, shoulders, neck, and face feeling partially tight, which can result in painful headaches or even migraines. But it doesn’t stop there. Stress can also induce tightness in your chest, muscle cramps, insomnia, heartburn, stomach cramps, and diarrhoea. Both the worry and discomfort of the aforementioned physical symptoms can result in further feelings of stress, creating an unwanted cycle of negativity in your mind and body. 

Exercising can help to break this vicious cycle, by realising endorphins, and relaxing muscles and tension throughout the body. Remember, your mind and body are inextricably linked; therefore, what affects one will always affect the other. 

Exercise and ADHD

For some, ADHD can adversely affect everyday life. However, exercise is one of the easiest and effective ways to fight ADHD and regain control. Going to the gym can help to reduce the common symptoms of ADHD, by boosting memory, mood, motivation, and concentration. Any form of physical exercise will increase the levels of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine in the brans, all of which have an impact on attention and focus. In short, exercise acts in a similar way to common ADHD medications.

If you’d like to learn more about how going to the gym helps me boost my own physical and mental health, you can read more in the following BBC and Men’s Health articles I was featured in:

https://www.menshealth.com/uk/health/a33401833/returning-to-gym-coronavirus-covid/

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-53502579

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