What is Wellbeing?
Wellbeing is defined as ‘a positive physical, social and mental state’.
In this article, we are focusing on mental wellbeing. Mental wellbeing does not have a single universal definition, but it does encompass several factors:
- The sense of feeling good about ourselves and being able to function well individually and/or even in relationships
- The ability to deal with the ups and downs of life, such as coping with various challenges and making the most of such opportunities
- The feeling of connection towards our community and surroundings
- Having control and freedom over our respective lives
- Having a sense of purpose and feeling valued for the same
Of course, mental wellbeing does not indicate being happy all the time, and it does not mean that you won’t experience negative or painful emotions, such as grief, loss, or failure, which are very much a part of normal life. However, whatever your age, being physically active can help you lead a mentally healthier life and can even improve your overall well being.
What impact does physical activity have on wellbeing?
Physical activity has a huge potential to enhance our wellbeing. Even a short burst of 10 minutes’ brisk walking increases our mental alertness, energy and positive mindset.
Participation in regular physical activity can increase our self-esteem and can reduce stress and anxiety. It also plays a role in preventing the development of mental health problems and in improving the quality of life of people experiencing mental health problems.
Exercise is a great way to improve your mood. People who exercise regularly have fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety than those who don’t. To increase the benefits, try exercising outside. Both aerobic exercise (such as walking, cycling or running) and strength training (such as weight lifting) can help treat depression.
Studies show that regularly exercising can have an enormous impact on your mood. In fact, it is thought that exercise can be just as effective as antidepressants in treating mild-to-moderate depression. Not only can exercise help in treating depression, it can also prevent people from becoming depressed again. So it’s important to keep up an exercise regimen after people get better.
We don’t yet understand exercise and mood enough to know exactly which type of exercise is best – or how much – but what we do know is that it definitely has a positive effect.
Here are some reasons why:
- Exercise helps chronic depression by increasing serotonin (which helps your brain regulate mood, sleep and appetite) or brain-derived neurotrophic factor (which helps neurons to grow).
- Exercise reduces immune system chemicals that can make depression worse.
- Exercise increases your level of endorphins, which are natural mood lifters.
- Exercise helps by getting your sleep patterns back to normal. We know getting enough sleep can protect the brain from damage.
- Exercise gives you a focused activity that can help you feel a sense of accomplishment.
- Exercise limits the effect of stress on your brain.
How much exercise is enough?
Doing 30 minutes or more of exercise a day for three to five days a week may significantly improve depression or anxiety symptoms. But smaller amounts of physical activity — as little as 10 to 15 minutes at a time — may even make a difference. It may take less time exercising to improve your mood when you do more-vigorous activities, such as running or bicycling.
The mental health benefits of exercise and physical activity may last only if you stick with it over the long term; another good reason to focus on finding activities that you enjoy.
Physical activity at different levels of intensity and its impact on people’s mood such as low-intensity aerobic exercise – for 30–35 minutes, 3–5 days a week, for 10–12 weeks – was best at increasing positive moods (e.g. enthusiasm, alertness).
Impact on our stress
When events occur that make us feel threatened or that upset our balance in some way, our body’s defences cut in and create a stress response, which may make us feel a variety of uncomfortable physical symptoms and make us behave differently, and we may also experience emotions more intensely.
The most common physical signs of stress include sleeping problems, sweating, and loss of appetite. Symptoms like these are triggered by a rush of stress hormones in our body – otherwise known as the ‘fight or flight’ response. It is these hormones, adrenaline and noradrenaline, which raise our blood pressure, increase our heart rate and increase the rate at which we perspire, preparing our body for an emergency response. They can also reduce blood flow to our skin and can reduce our stomach activity, while cortisol, another stress hormone, releases fat and sugar into the system to boost our energy.
Physical exercise can be very effective in relieving stress. Highly active individuals tend to have lower stress rates compared to individuals who are less active.
Impact on our self-esteem
Exercise not only has a positive impact on our physical health, but it can also increase our self-esteem. Self-esteem is how we feel about ourselves and how we perceive our self-worth. It is a key indicator of our mental wellbeing and our ability to cope with life stressors.
Physical activity has been shown to have a positive influence on our self-esteem and self-worth. This relationship has been found in children, adolescents, adults and older people, and across both males and females.
Impact on depression and anxiety
Physical activity can be an alternative treatment for depression. It can be used as a standalone treatment or in combination with medication and/or psychological therapy. It has few side effects and does not have the stigma that some people perceive to be attached to taking antidepressants or attending psychotherapy and counselling.
Physical activity can reduce levels of anxiety in people with mild symptoms and may also be helpful for treating clinical anxiety. Physical activity is available to all, has few costs attached, and is an empowering approach that can support self-management.
If you have trouble getting a good night’s sleep, exercise can help with that, too. Physical activity increases body temperature, which can have calming effects on the mind, leading to less sheep counting and more shuteye. Exercise also helps regulate your circadian rhythm, our bodies’ built-in alarm clock that controls when we feel tired and when we feel alert. (Although improved sleep is a psychological benefit of exercise, sleep experts recommend not exercising close to bedtime.)
Building intelligence to strengthen memory, exercise boosts brain power in a number of different ways. Studies on mice and humans indicate that cardiovascular exercise creates new brain cells; a process called neurogenesis and improves overall brain performance. It also prevents cognitive decline and memory loss by strengthening the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory and learning. Studies also prove that physical activity boosts creativity and mental energy. So if you’re in need of inspiration, your big idea could be just a walk or jog away.
To Sum it up
Physical activity has been shown to have a positive impact on our mood. A study asked people to rate their mood immediately after periods of physical activity (e.g. going for a walk or doing housework), and periods of inactivity (e.g. reading a book or watching television). Researchers found that the participants felt more content, more awake and calmer after being physically active compared to after periods of inactivity. They also found that the effect of physical activity on mood was greatest when mood was initially low.