In these strange and stressful times, virtually all of us have had to change how we live our lives to some degree. Many have experienced significant challenges and difficulties, either directly or indirectly as a result of this COVID-19 pandemic. These challenges and difficulties have had negative impacts on the mental health of many of us. It can be hard to know how to even begin to address these negative impacts in our own lives when so much is out of our control. Luckily, small daily steps CAN make a difference, and being physically active is one of the most impactful steps you can take.
The positive impact of physical activity on mental health might seem intuitively obvious to some, but what exactly are the effects? This area has been widely studied and the many positive effects of physical activity start with reductions in daily stress and increases in self-reported happiness, and lower levels of sadness and loneliness. Regular physical activity can be as effective as medical treatments for anxiety and depression. It lowers the risk of conditions like Alzheimer’s Disease and can improve symptoms of reduced memory and concentration.
HOW does physical activity help with our mental health? These benefits are triggered by the boosting of your body’s production of naturally occurring chemicals that are associated with positive emotions – chemicals like endorphins, dopamine and serotonin. Regular physical activity leads to both short term and long-term positive effects on the levels of these chemicals, plus reduces the amount of cortisol – the “stress hormone” – that your body produces.
So, how to get started? There are so many resources online available, many of them free. Online yoga classes, exercise classes, dance classes, all tailored to different levels and abilities are available on a quick search. If you are not already even a bit active, try to choose something that you will enjoy doing and that is safe for you to do. Walking is the most simple and accessible activity for many of us. Being outdoors doing your physical activity only enhances the positive effects, as the benefits of being in nature on mental health are also well documented. If getting outdoors or online to be more physically active seems impossible – bad weather, icy sidewalks, lack of familiarity with technology or no access – activities as simple as walking laps in your house/apartment building, practicing getting out of a chair without using your hands, doing stairs repetitively, will get you moving more and reaping the benefits of physical activity.
If you have barriers to being more physically active because of arthritis, painful body parts, balance problems, weakness, or just want knowledgeable guidance to get moving more, an assessment by a physiotherapist is your best place to begin. Call Best Health Physiotherapy to make an appointment to get started on increasing your physical activity, and improving your mental health!