We all know that exercise can help people manage mental health challenges, and, for those of you fortunate enough to have never experienced stress, depression, anxiety, mania or psychosis, a regular routine of even light exercise can be an effective part of a preventative regime. But, does exercise really help those individuals who actually experience genuine mental health issues, as opposed to those of us who simply feel a bit down in the dumps every so often?

Reduce physical tension.

Physical tension can build up in our muscles leaving us feeling tense and uptight. Exercise helps to loosen up the body and relieve this tension, leaving us feeling physically better, which results in improved sense of mental well being.

Improve your brain chemistry.

When we exercise, our body releases endorphins and other ‘feel good’ hormones. This will help lift the mood of people with depressive symptoms and calm those with stress and anxiety. If you have a history of substance abuse and addiction, the hormones exercise releases will be similar to the ones your brain released when you were engaging in your addiction, which means that you can start to reintroduce this healthy brain chemistry in a healthy way, helping you get back to feeling more like yourself.

Confidence.

When you push yourself to extend your limits of capability, particularly in terms of physical activity, which has immediate, measurable, and observable results, you begin to build a foundation of self-belief, and gain the confidence to tackle wider life challenges. (https://www.excelatlife.com/articles/selfesteemexercise.htm)

Look good, feel good.

Related to the positive impact exercise can have on your self-confidence, following an exercise programme can help you loose weight, develop increased muscular strength and definition, which, in turn, can result in you feeling better about yourself generally, in aspects of your life far beyond your health and physical ability. If you’re on medication such as anti-depressants or anti-psychotics which can increase appetite and cause unwanted weight gain, then you mind find exercise an empowering way of keeping your weight under control.

Community.

An Australian study (http://exerciseright.com.au/top-reasons-community-based-exercise-best-older-adults/) highlights the benefits to seniors of ‘community based’ exercise programmes, which combine the benefits of increased social engagement and being more active; while this study looks at the effect of community based activity for older Australians, we can make a fairly safe assumption that these benefits would apply equally to any age and nationality. People with mental health conditions can become isolated, so being out in the community, collaborating as a team could be very up lifting.

Impact on mania.

Regular cardio exercise is recommended by mental health professionals as a way to keep people who experience bipolar level. As well as easing addiction, stress and anxiety which can deeply affect individuals with bipolar, exercise may be able to encourage you to sleep which can help you control manic episodes. https://www.everydayhealth.com/mental-health/exercise-can-help-bipolar-disorder.aspx
However, some bipolar people report exercise addiction or are actually made more manic by exercise. So if this sounds like you, try and stick to gentle cardio like walking or swimming for restricted times.

Psychosis.

Exercise has shown to have a positive impact on psychosis in young adults experiencing early psychosis. The test participants reported a reduction in psychotic symptoms by as much as 27%.

http://www.manchester.ac.uk/discover/news/exercise-helps-young-people-with-psychosis-symptoms-study-shows/

Mindfulness and breathing.

When we’re exercising, we’re engaged in a behaviour that forces us to concentrate on what we’re doing. You might find that when you exercise your mind is free from troubling thoughts, and you are just focused on the world around you and your own body.

If you’re doing cardio, you have to breath in a strong, regulated way. Often when we feel distressed, we may not realise it but we’re actually breathing shallowly from high in up the chest. Relaxing the stomach and breathing deeply into it can be immediately calming. Perhaps you will just feel calm for the time during exercise, but for people with chronic symptoms even a short break from symptoms can be very much appreciated.