How Sport Can Improve Your Mental Health
by Jon Greenhalgh, editor for GameplanA
The topic of mental health is to this day still something of a taboo, although over the last few years conversations are becoming more and more open on the issue. Why? Because more and more people are being diagnosed with varying degrees of mental illness every day. Luckily, society appears to finally be turning the corner on mental health and developing a fuller understanding of what it actually means.
Good to know:
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation claims that around 13% of the world’s population suffers from one form of mental health condition or another.(1)
The “D” word
Depression is probably the most widely recognized form of mental illness and one that touches many. For those who don’t know what depression actually is, it’s probably easier to begin with what it isn’t. It’s not just a simple case of “feeling sad”. It is a debilitating illness that can have significant ramifications on the lives of those it affects.
The root cause?
Science tells us that there are four chemicals that can have an impact on your happiness – serotonin, endorphins, dopamine, and oxytocin. Any imbalance can have dramatic results. So, to address depression you need to address this imbalance if you want to give yourself a fighting chance of getting out of it.
Prescribed medication is obviously one way of addressing the issue, with varying side effects, but the good news is that there are methods that can be applied beyond the realms of pharmaceuticals.
It’s widely acknowledged that the simple act of exercising can help in the release of endorphins.(2) This is the chemical change in your brain that will increase your sense of wellbeing and can be triggered with just 15 minutes of exercise.
To maintain a healthy balance, you’ll need to find something that works for you, be it running solo or in a group, taking a 30-minute stroll through your local park or riding your bike up the most gear-breaking of hills.
Sport as a means to reduce stress
Stress is your body’s reaction to a threatening situation, explains Dr. Erica Jackson Ph.D in her article “STRESS RELIEF: The Role of Exercise in Stress Management”.(3) Here, she states that between “75% and 90% of primary care physician visits are caused by stress-related illnesses.”
The good news is that exercise can help. She goes on to explain that “human and animal research indicates that being physically active improves the way the body handles stress because of changes in the hormone responses, and that exercise affects neurotransmitters in the brain such as dopamine and serotonin that affect mood and behaviors”. Train your body one way and it’ll train itself in another. Once again, this is thanks to our friend serotonin.
Jackson recommends “150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week”. This can be adjusted according to your need. She continues by stating “breaking the exercise into two 10 to 15-minute sessions, one before work and one at lunch time when possible, can help combat stress throughout the day”.
Food and mental health?
Sport can certainly assist in improving or maintaining mental health, but is there anything else you can be doing? Sure. Eat properly. Recent research suggests diet can have a significant impact on your mental wellbeing.(4)
“There is strong epidemiological evidence that poor diet is associated with depression. The reverse has also been shown, namely that eating a healthy diet rich in fruit, vegetables, fish and lean meat, is associated with reduced risk of depression.”
Of course, diet is key to performing well in your sport of choice, so the benefit is twofold. With a balanced diet you not only promote a healthier mind, you’re giving yourself the fuel to continue your therapeutic sport sessions.
In essence, there’s much credibility to the saying “sound body, sound mind”. We should never underestimate the importance of mental health. It’s easy to shrug off the things that wear us down as “just part of life,” but incorporating a healthier way of living will not only serve to make you fitter – it’ll help to keep your mental wellbeing in check.
Depression is a serious illness. Exercise or changing your diet cannot replace professional medical treatment. Consult your doctor if you notice that you are experiencing typical symptoms of depression.
Do you want to break the cycle but don’t know where to start? Check out these helpful blog posts:
About Jon Greenhalgh:
Jon has been with adidas for over seven years and is currently working as an editor in the Corporate Communication department. He is an avid cyclist with a preference for gravel trails.