The Positive Impact of Physical Activity on Well-Being
Everyone understands the importance of exercise with regard to physical health, but modern research continues to show how psychological health is intrinsically related to physical wellbeing. By engaging in regular exercise, it is possible to significantly boost mental wellness.
Because of this change in how we perceive exercise as it relates to wellness, it becomes even more important to remain active, not only to keep the body healthy, but our emotional responses positive and stable.
When it comes to being active, you have a lot of different options. You don't have to get a gym membership or run a mile every day, you just have to take conscientious steps to boost your activity levels in ways that you enjoy or are passionate about!
What is Physical Activity?
Physical activity refers to any action that you take that burns calories and activates your skeletal muscles. The options at your disposal are practically limitless, whether you like to jog, run, play basketball, bike, or lift weights!
How Much Should I Exercise?
As of today, wellness researchers suggest that adults should engage in between 1 and 2 hours of physical activity per week. This pertains to both modest exercise and high intensity exercise. Good examples of exercise that are low impact but good for your health are bike-riding, hiking, and walking. If you're looking for something that will get you in even better shape, consider jump rope, aerobics, swimming laps, or running. If your pulse and breathing speed up at least modestly, you can count the activity toward your weekly goal.
What is Mental Wellness?
Maintaining psychological and emotional well-being are just as important as supporting physical health. Mental wellness is a complicated subject, including, but not limited to the following:
Maintaining a sense of value and purpose
Feeling free to make our own decisions and make our own choices
Having a sense of belonging
Being able to roll with the punches and appreciate the positive experiences in one's life
Caring about oneself and being able to enjoy relationships with others
It's important to realize that you don't have to be perfectly content all of the time to have good mental wellbeing. Happiness and sorrow, pain and pleasure are experiences that all people have. It's about maintaining general positivity and keeping yourself on a path which facilitates happiness.
How Does Exercise Improve Wellbeing?
As we hinted at earlier, the human mind does not exist in a vacuum separate from the body. Maintaining physical health facilitates an improved mindset and better psychological health and wellbeing. Studies have shown that even brief periods of physical activity can bolster our mood. A quick-paced ten minute walk has been scientifically shown to improve mood, increase energy, and boost cognitive awareness.
Other studies have shown that engaging in regular exercise can both mitigate anxiety and stress and boost self-esteem, both in the short-term and in the long-term. For people that suffer from depression, anxiety disorders, and other psychological conditions, exercise has also been shown to soften the symptoms of these disorders while significantly improving mental wellbeing.
The Effects of Exercise on Mood
In addition to the effects on long-term psychological wellbeing, exercise also has immediate effects upon mood and mood stability. In one particular study, participants were asked to self-report their mood after different levels of activity. Participants that engage in sedentary activity were found to be in worse moods than those that engaged in light activity such as cleaning or taking a walk.
There is also a strong correlation between physical activity and a variety of particular feelings associated with psychological wellbeing, such as remaining calm and maintaining wakefulness and focus. One thing that is interesting about exercise is that it tends to have the strongest effects on people when they are struggling the most. People that rated themselves lower with regard to mood experienced more significant improvements than their peers that were initially in better moods.
What Level of Activity is Most Effective at Improving Mood?
Research has shown that even a little bit of exercise puts us in a better mood, but those benefits are amplified when we engage in regular physical activity. The most effective form of mood-enhancing exercise is low-impact cardiovascular exercise. A 2 1/2-3 month exercise regimen of thirty minutes of activity three to five times per week significantly improved a variety of different factors associated with positive emotional well-being.
The Effects of Exercise and Activity on Stress
Above all else, stress has a more degrading effect on psychological health than anything else. Stress can be defined as any outside agitation that causes tension or emotional distress. Stress directly leads to an increase in cortisol levels and the activation of fight-or-flight response. Stress puts us on edge, and is very draining on the human body, both physically and psychologically. We act differently when we are stressed, and we have a tendency to feel emotions more powerfully, especially negative emotions.
Other hormones also play a role in stress, including noradrenaline and adrenaline. These hormones boost our pulse and increase our blood pressure, designed to help us get out of potentially harmful situations. Stress is a good thing in small doses. It motivates us and helps keep us safe. The problem is with chronic stress. When we are chronically stressed, it causes us to become depressed and frazzled. It makes us more likely to sleep poorly and it even makes us more likely to make poor dietary choices!
Like we mentioned earlier, physical and psychological well-being are intrinsically connected. The same goes for physical and psychological stress. Physical activity provides an outlet for psychological stress. Individuals that maintain high activity levels are clearly shown to have less stress than people that are more sedentary.
The Effect of Exercise on Self-Esteem
It appears that Self-Esteem is strongly correlated with activity level. People that are less active tend to have lower self-esteem and are more likely to get down on themselves. It's not all about looking better, the effects of regular exercise on self-esteem are apparent even in the absence of physical changes. Being active helps us cope, and it helps us maintain a stronger connection with our bodies and with the world around us.