Good mental health and physical well-being are closely interconnected, forming a vital foundation for our overall health. While exercise is generally beneficial for everyone, it’s important to acknowledge that individuals may have varying experiences and perspectives on the sense of accomplishment it brings, particularly those simply participating just to say they have done so, rather than working towards longer terms goals or using tailored workout plans.
So, with new year’s resolutions and goals in mind, this blog post will delve into the connection between mental and physical health, emphasizing that a holistic approach to well-being encompasses more than just physical activity.
Numerous scientific studies have demonstrated the profound link between mental and physical health, while social media is inundated with influencers and athletes claiming exercise massively aided their mental health. Regular exercise has been linked to improved mental well-being, reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression, enhanced cognitive functioning, and increased resilience to stress. Engaging in exercise promotes the release of endorphins and other feel-good neurotransmitters, which can positively impact mood and overall mental state.
According to some studies, even 30 minutes a day of non-weight bearing cardio exercise like swimming or cycling significantly improves heart health, while those who simply practice the Wim-Hof methods of breathing (and cold showers!) claim to quickly experience improved mood, lower heart rate and better sleep. For those unfamiliar with Wim Hof and his techniques, check out this short video.
While exercise is commonly championed as an effective means of improving mental health, it is essential to recognize that mental well-being encompasses more than physical activity alone. It is important to adopt a holistic approach that addresses various aspects of health, including emotional, social, cognitive, and spiritual dimensions. Each individual may have different needs and preferences when it comes to maintaining and improving mental well-being, and we must also consider environmental factors or issues beyond our control.
For those with a busier schedule, moving house or new to parenthood, the desire may be there to exercise but lack of time or sleep understandably prevent them from partaking, while those with the most time or least commitments cannot find the motivation to get started or lack the resources.
It is crucial to acknowledge that not everyone may experience the same sense of accomplishment after exercise. Personal circumstances, previous traumas, or mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety may impact one’s ability to enjoy or appreciate physical activity in the same way as others. It is vital to respect and support diverse perspectives and offer alternative strategies for improving mental well-being.
For example, when suffering from grief, partaking in exercise may help to distract us from the pain, but not improve our mental state. On the other hand, marathon runners taking on the challenge for a cause or lost loved one may find the experience healing and empowering. The point is, the answer, solution or outcome is different for everybody.
Recognizing that exercise might not be the optimal approach for everyone, it is important to emphasize that there are various other avenues towards mental well-being. These include therapy, mindfulness and meditation, creative outlets, volunteering, and spending quality time with loved ones. Encouraging individuals to explore and discover what works best for them can lead to more personalized and sustainable improvements in mental health.
When embarking on fitness and health journeys, it is important to conduct thorough research and consult with medical and or fitness professionals if you have any concerns. A vastly overlooked factor is the relationship between the gut microbiome and mental health, poor health or imbalances in the gut can cause a host of issues elsewhere so this should also be checked when making dietary or caloric changes.
Mental and physical health are undoubtedly intertwined, with exercise playing a significant role in promoting overall well-being. However, adopting a holistic approach that factors in various dimensions of health and our environment is equally important.
While exercise may not offer the same sense of accomplishment to everyone, alternative strategies and research should be embraced and encouraged. By promoting open conversations surrounding mental health and providing diverse support options, we can create an inclusive environment that fosters physical and mental well-being for all.
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