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  • Writer's pictureAlejandra Arellano

Physical exercise and mental health

It's a well-known fact that physical exercise has numerous positive impacts on the body, for example having a healthy heart and joints. However, did you know that physical activity can also be beneficial for your mental health?

What is physical activity?

Physical activity is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure” (1). Therefore, being physically active does not necessarily mean running a marathon or training at the gym but can also involve moderate intensity exercises such as walking, cycling and even active recreation and play (2).

Mental illness and exercise.

Mental health professionals can sometimes recommend different types of exercise as part of treatments for some mental illnesses (3). This is because exercise can have potential positive effects on people’s mental health. Moreover, physical activity can also play a role in the preventing the development of mental health problems (4).

Anxiety and stress

Doing physical exercise releases cortisol, a hormone that helps manage stress. Exercise also helps promote the growth of new neurons. Some research suggests that this may be significant in relieving symptoms of some psychiatric conditions including depression and anxiety (5).

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder

Exercise may improve motor skills and executive function for children with ADHD. This seems to apply to both moderate and vigorous exercise and exercising for a longer period of time may lead to better results (6).

The impact of physical activity on wellbeing.

Impact on mood

Physical activity has been shown to have a positive impact on our mood. When doing exercise, endorphins, which are your body’s feel-good chemicals are released, giving your mood a natural boost (7).

Impact on self-esteem

Exercise can also increase our self-esteem. Self-esteem is how we feel about ourselves and how we perceive our self-worth. It is a very important part of our mental well-being and our ability to cope with life’s stressors. Physical activity has been shown to have a positive influence on our self-esteem and self-worth in children, adolescents, young adults, adults, and older people, and among both males and females (4).

Is physical activity for me?

Types of physical exercise.

There are many types of exercise, and it is important to figure out which ones you enjoy doing. Some examples to consider are:

- Yoga

- Tai chi

- Pilates

- Aerobic exercise (such as running, cycling, swimming)

Tips to start exercising.

Here you can find a short video with 5 tips to get moving and feel better:



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