Mental health problems reportedly effect 1 in 4 people. Among the most common illnesses are anxiety and depression. In recent years there has been a debate on the effectiveness of exercise in helping sufferers of mental health problems. There is a lot to look at, and the benefits of exercise are not just applicable to people suffering with mental health issues. Let’s look at a few areas that training affects, north of the spine.
A symptom that is frequently reported among people suffering from anxiety disorders is fear of “Lack of control”. Some anecdotal research has shown that undertaking a regular program of exercise has helped to regain some of the lost feelings of control. Why is this?
Dr Alan Cohen, whilst talking about anxiety sufferers was quoted as saying: “Exercise gives them back control of their bodies and this is often the first step to feeling in control of other events,”. So if a person who suffers from anxiety can see that their actions are creating positive results through exercise, then they may feel greater confidence in other aspects of their life. Another benefit is that exercise can serve as a great distraction. When someone is completely focused on the positive action of exercising “can get you away from the cycle of negative thoughts that feed anxiety and depression.”
In today’s society, your brain is often your currency. And being able to keep focused is an important tool for everyone. That being the case, we need to make sure that that bit of jelly between the ears is firing on all cylinders when you need it. Biologically many great things happen when you exercise, and many of them directly affect the brain. For instance, when you train, your body ends up far more thoroughly oxygenated than before. Your body’s ability to take in oxygen (VO2 levels) also increase. This directly helps the function of the brain. More oxygen, more ideas, more focus.
Perhaps you have a high pressure job, or are an entrepreneur. You can often be loaded with nervous energy. A big contract you are waiting on, deadlines for a project, these things can pile up in your head and fester. You need that drive in you to succeed, however it can become crippling if not treated. Exercising can burn this nervous energy by channelling it into something productive, something that you can do now. You will make better decisions, and feel better after that 15 hour stint in front of your laptop.
The term “Runner’s High” is a reference to the feeling of elation experienced after a bout of physical activity. It is a well-known fact that exercise triggers the release of many hormones in the brain that have a calming and often euphoric effect on the subject. Hormones such as endorphins, neurotransmitters and endocannaboids can flood the brain and help with depressive or anxious thoughts. Obviously these symptoms often go deeper, but this influx of chemicals can go some way to redressing the balance of chemicals in the brain.
Beyond the brain there are other chemicals that are released after exercise that affect the nervous system. It is all a little technical, so I would recommend checking out the paper here if you have a penchant for long long words. In short however, some chemicals in your body have an inflammatory effect on the nervous system, and the opinion is that exercise can help to balance these overall, and thus lessen the symptoms of depression.
While this might have some hormonal benefits for those suffering from mental health issues, the assistance of exercise in keeping the emotions balanced is anecdotally very well established. Your emotions take a beating regularly, kids, work, bills etc. And that might be a typical Monday morning! This rollercoaster can be exhausting, you need to become mentally and physically tougher to deal with it.
When training Serotonin is released, this lifts your mood, makes you feel invincible, and fuels much needed creativity. You can benefit by allowing the increased serotonin levels to help you even out emotionally. You will be far more prepared for any challenges that will come.
Specifically for entrepreneurs, they may have the feelings in their business that things are out of your control. There will always be times when you have done everything you can do, and someone you rely on lets you down. Or perhaps you are just waiting around for something to fall into place, and you have done all you can do. This can drive you crazy, and this is where exercise can help out again… of course. You have control over your body, and your progress in the gym. Even if everything in our business seems to be out of your control, or circumstances seem to be closing in you still have control.
You can still move the iron in the gym, or command the road to your bidding, your body is still yours. Making consistent progress in the gym will keep that sense of improvement and success you can draw upon to retain emotional balance.
Follow The Leaders
Quite simply, some of the humans who have performed at the highest level on earth would never start the day without some form of exercise. Steve Jobs, Anna Wintour, Richard Branson, Condoleeza Rice, Barack Obama, all of these highly successful daily did/do a dose of exercise, many of them swearing by it. It is always a good idea to model the successful, so get modelling! Do as they do!
Lastly, a Finnish study followed 5,000 male twins for thirty years, monitoring their activity levels. Take a wild guess which group earned more? Yes. The ones who did regular exercise. Earned around 15% more. Exercising makes you more likely to be involved in competitive and difficult situations. And more likely to crush any obstacles you have.
What You Can Do
The topic can be endlessly discussed, but the consensus seems to be simple. Exercise is good for you. Reports of anxiety and depressive disorders are lower among those who exercise frequently, and the science seems to point towards that direction also. And as we have also discussed, at the peak of human performance, exercise plays a very important role. So what can you do?
Pick an activity you enjoy, or could enjoy.
For some it is weightlifting, running, walking, swimming. Anything that you can see yourself enjoying. If you have a hard time imagining enjoying anything like that, (which is ok!) then how about something you can improve in. Perhaps you can improve your sprint time by a quarter second each month. Perhaps you can add to your squat numbers by 10kg per month. How about swimming as many lengths as possible in 30 mins, and then beat it, then again and again. Progress is possible in every form of exercise, pick one and get better at it.
Your training and your eating are not just casual lovers, they are in a committed relationship. If you train and don’t eat right you are only harnessing a fraction of the benefits you could be enjoying! There are plenty of diets out there. Check out these if you’d like. Whatever you chose, keep consistent and feel the benefits!