Uncovering The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise
Written in Partnership with SQDAthletica.
The 18th century essayist Joseph Addison once said: “Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body”. You’d be hard pressed to find a writer who disagrees with this statement, and one who could claim that habitual reading has physiological benefits, but what of the mental health benefits of physical activity?
Exercise has long been used to treat depression, and with relatively high rates of efficacy. The central thesis of endorphins creating a pleasant, mentally stabilising mood, has been a scientifically proved concept for some time, and anxiety and ADHD diagnoses are also managed by a various range of exercises in patients who are capable.
Something important to consider, especially with mental health and the diagnosis of, say, mild depression, is that while medication can be used very effectively, it’s seldom without its side-effects, and no course of drug-based treatment is without its risks.
Physical exercise, however, is free, accessible to all, and has just as high of a success rate in certain cases.
The link between body and mind can be most easily drawn in the instance of examining stress. Ever notice a tightness in the chest, neck and shoulders when dealing with stressful situations? Perhaps you experience cramps, or twitching muscles, or an inability to sleep. All demonstrable physical symptoms that show due to mental circumstances–it only then makes sense that the relationship could work both ways.
Regular exercise is an undeniably good idea for a vast number of reasons, but to really get an idea of how it benefits the mind, we teamed up with our friends at SQDAthletica and spoke with some of their ambassadors on how they train their brain.
Whether you’re a jogger or gym-goer, the preponderance of those who profess the existence of mental health benefits from exercising over those who do not would be almost entire. But why is this? And to what extent?
Ex-cricketer and fitness fanatic Lee Carseldine sees exercise as a binding concept, that gives him clarity in everything that he does.
“Put simply, it is the foundation that I need for everything else that I do in my life” he says.
“It gives me balance with my hectic schedule, my businesses, my health, my mental state, clarity with my thinking … it all is defined and driven from exercising”.
Other proved mental health benefits to be gained from exercise include a sharper memory and cognitive ability, better sleep patterns, more energy and a fortified resilience to tackle daily challenges, paired with a higher self-esteem.
A regular theme with all of SQDAthletica’s representatives is an agreeance that the mental health benefits of exercise are many and varied, though different types of exercise seem to offer different forms of mental benefit.
Former footballer Scott Prince’s preferred exercise for training the mind may surprise you, as he happily eschews the traditional tough-guy image associated with rugby league, and confesses a learned passion for yoga.
“There are many benefits of this physical exercise that most people don’t know about, which include flexibility, building muscle strength, perfecting posture, increasing blood flow, lowering blood sugar & many more”, says Prince.
“Yoga helps focus the mind, an important component to focus on the present through techniques such as meditation, focusing on breathing, posture and movements of the body, instead of being distracted by other thoughts.
“Research shows through regular yoga sessions, it will improve reaction time, memory & ability to solve problems–all the things you need to help you get through life.”
Pro-swimmer Ben Treffers tends to agree with Scott’s view, that yoga is about as good an exercise as you’ll find for benefiting the mind through physical activity.
“For me, there are two approaches: centring or immersing”, he offers.
“Depending on your mental state, slow, calming exercise such as yoga or stretching can help improve your mindfulness and draw attention to being in the moment.
“By relaxing and concentrating on your breath while doing exercise, you are able to achieve focus and clarity by centring yourself. This allows you to start or return to your day with a clear mind, ready for whatever is coming”.
His other favourite pastime to achieve clarity is an obvious one, considering his chosen profession.
“Alternatively, I like to achieve focus and clarity by going for a nice, long aerobic swim.
“I find solitude through swimming, as I am able to shut the world out, and just spend time with my thoughts. It can be so beneficial to immerse yourself in your thoughts and just gain some clarity about everything that is going on. It is a great way to take a time out, finish exercise feeling refreshed and be ready to take action”.
Wherever you sit on the scale of actually enjoying exercise, it’s hard to deny the countless scientific studies that have examined the positive effects physical activity can have on the mind. Hearing it from the horse’s mouth, in the case of SQDAthletica’s ambassadors, only furthers this now well-developed notion that exercise goes a lot further in the form of benefiting a participant than just helping them shape a six-pack, lose weight, or put on some muscle for summer.
Literature still flexes the intellectual muscle, but literally flexing the rest of them will palpably make the former task a much easier pastime.