When it comes to fitness goals, there are few more vital than ‘better mental health’. It’s one of the very best outcomes of a regular workout routine. You know exercise is good for you, but do you know what it can do to improve your mood? Let’s look at its effects on stress, sleep, depression and anxiety…
You’ve probably heard of serotonin. It’s known as ‘the feel-good hormone’ because it helps to boost your mood and increase your sense of wellbeing. There are a host of ways you can trigger it – with sunlight, a massage or by eating tryptophan-rich foods – but exercise is one of the most commonly used because it’s so quick and easy. Try a workout that gets your heart rate up (like a boxing session with one of our trainers) to boost the flow of serotonin and experience those mood-elevating effects.
It makes sense that pushing your body to its limits is going to make you feel more tired. But, did you know? There are studies to back up your workout’s sleep-boosting benefits, too. It’s not just a case of wearing yourself out; according to the Sleep Foundation, the relaxing effects come down to how exercise impacts your body’s core temperature.
When you exercise, your ‘internal thermostat’ dials up a few degrees, but later in the day it drops, which triggers feelings of drowsiness. Experts recommend working out in the morning or the afternoon to see these effects, as the evening might not allow enough time for your temperature to readjust. As for how this improves your mental health, we all feel better after a good night’s sleep. While it might not eliminate your worries, a little extra rest can help you start your day on a more positive note.
Researchers at the University College London found increasing physical activity from nothing to three workouts per week reduced depression by 20%. In fact, the NHS prescribes physical activity as a form of therapy, while the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommends regular exercise for those suffering from mild to moderate depression.
When you’re pumping iron or hitting a heavy bag, you’re directing your mental energy away from a rush of busy thoughts, helping to distract your mind from your day-to-day worries. But that’s not the only way exercise dials down stress. The Stress Management Society says that it also fulfils your body’s reflexive response to stressors.
Think of how you feel when you’re stressed. Does your heart rate quicken? This is because your adrenal glands are producing epinephrine, also known as ‘adrenaline’. At this point, your body is in a heightened state to react, and it expects some kind of physical activity as a form of release. That’s where exercise comes in. It’s a great way of utilising all that extra adrenaline you’ve built up. Just make sure the intensity is high, your focus is sharp and your movements are consistent.
This is especially true with a personal trainer. One of the best things about working out is having a teammate to spur you on; someone who pushes you hard and celebrates your wins. The social ties you form can also inspire self-confidence, reducing any feelings you might have of isolation or loneliness.