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Why exercise is essential for a healthy mind [just as it is for a healthy body]

This World Health Day, the theme was Depression: Let’s Talk About It.

It is incredibly inspiring to see mental health being put on the agenda in such a prominent way. Years ago health and well-being was solely focused on the physical, but with scientific advancement and psychological study we now know that health is all encompassing and that mental health is just as, perhaps even more, important that your physical health.

Whilst we all know the physical benefits of doing regular exercise, below I have outlined just a few of the mental benefits you can gain from dragging yourself off that sofa and getting active.

It helps reduce stress and anxiety

As we all know exercise releases endorphins and these can help to make us happy. However, a study by the American Psychological Society has found that exercise also releases norepinephrine, which could help the brain deal with stress.

Norepinephrine is apparently produced in locus coeruleus, an area of the brain which connects the emotional and stress responses, and is thought to play a role in how we respond to both stress and anxiety. Unfortunately Norepinephrine is not a miracle worker, it doesn’t inhibit stress and anxiety however it is thought to enhance the body’s ability to deal with stress which in itself is a powerful tool to have at your disposal.

Exercise can also be a fantastic mindfulness tool. I must confess that mindfulness is not something I excel at, however when I run I find it very easy to just zone out, listen to the crash of the waves on the pebbles and block out all thoughts; often I come to end of a long run and find that I have thought about nothing at all. Now when I run I use it as a form of escapism, a way to block out all stress, anxiety and negative thoughts which, in this modern age, is something we all seem to have a lot of.

Exercise can also be a very social activity, whether you join a running club or go to keep fit classes at the gym, it can be an excellent way to meet new people who have a positive outlook on life. If you are stressed or anxious, spending some time with friends can be a great outlet and can help shift your focus from negative thoughts to positive ones.

It improves your memory

According to Harvard Health Publications, exercise can boost the brain and improve memory. The study suggests that the prefrontal and medial temporal cortex, the parts of the brain that control thinking and memory, are much larger in people that exercise. The study also found that if people that do not regularly exercise start moderate exercise for over six months to a year then they will also see those parts of their brain increase and [potentially] their memory!

It helps reduce depression

In a report by the World Health Organisation, they highlighted self-care as one of the key ways to both prevent and treat depression; self-care incorporates paying careful attention to diet, exercise and of course sleep. WHO states that self-care is an effective way of people living with mental disorders to take the first step in the management of their conditions and in many cases can be sufficient for a full and sustained recovery. When you are eating right, sleeping well and getting active not only are you in control of your mental and physical state, but you are also putting yourself first and recognizing that you are important and deserve to be cared for; self-care in its very essence is the same as self-love.

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