According to World Health Organization, uni-polar depression is predicted to the second leading cause of global disability by the year 2020. This comes to no shock to those who are familiar with the relevant data: approximately 1/3 people in the average American community are diagnosed with a humorless ailment, including mental disease (e.g. depression, anxiety), as well as physical well-being complaints (e.g. chronic pain, persistent migraines). Additionally, an astounding 1/5 men and 1/12 women in the U.S. find themselves alcohol dependant at some point in their lifetime. All it takes is a few Google searches to find even more shocking statistics like these. Instead of becoming another statistic, adults should take it upon themselves to use such research and facts to their benefit.
Unhealthy and Unhappy
It’s no secret that those who are in less than optimal physical health find themselves facing more mood swings, more bad days and with less life satisfaction. But, all of this is preventable with just one, simple, non-pharmaceutical lifestyle change. Research shows that physical activity, in just about any form, is an effective preventive measure and cure for the majority of mental health diseases. Question: What one thing do all of the follow have in common? Taking the dog for an evening walk; going on a bike ride with your best friend; going on a morning jog; taking a pilates class. Answer: They all count as completely acceptable forms of physical activity; point being that the term “exercise” isn’t only achieved in a gym.
Is Exercise Really a Magic Cure?
In short: Yes! The human body and brain are capable of some pretty amazing things that sciences are still trying to figure out. However, one thing is widely accepted among the neurosciences: when a person is active, a biochemical process begins, which releases specific chemicals. These magical substances are called Endorphins, which are best understood as the “feel good chemicals,” as they have been found to relieve pain and induce feelings of pleasure or euphoria. Additionally, serotonin levels rise, serotonin has been linked to sleep and memory.
But that’s not all! When taking the dog on a walk, the body’s blood flow is at its best, sending and retrieving more blood to and form the brain, which in turn reduces muscle tension. When muscle tension is reduced, stress levels decrease. Still, this physical activity isn’t just delivering benefits, rather there are known psychosocial benefits; regular physical activity has been shown to improve overall body image, increase confidence levels, contribute a sense of accomplishment, and even give a sense of control over life situations.
Though numerous controlled studies, physical activity has been found advantageous to those battling a range of mental illnesses including anxiety, panic disorders, phobias, and stress disorders. Exercise has been found to have a positive effect on other ailments including aiding the psychological health of those suffering from schizophrenia.
Instead of finding yourself stuck in a rut, get up and get moving! Start at your own pace; if you don’t like running, don’t run! Exercise is anything that increases your heart rate and has the potential of making you sweat. Not only are you likely to notice an encouraging difference in your mental status, but chances are you will notice positive changes in your body as well.
Mental illness is nothing to joke about, if you or someone you know is suicidal or in emotional distress, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1‑800‑273‑TALK. Likewise, if you or someone you know is experiencing anxiety, panic attacks, or a crisis of any kind, please call the U.S. Crisis Help Line at 1-800-233-4357.