How you can use exercise to improve your mental health

Mental wellbeing is an important factor in everyone’s daily life, and can easily be neglected and overlooked during times of stress and heavy workload. Many students suffer from different forms and severities of mental illness during their time at university and, although long-lasting and life interfering issues are best solved through seeking professional help, general stress and lowness can be relieved through other methods.

One way in which you can greatly improve your mental wellbeing is through exercise. Although it can be hard to get up and motivated to exercise when you are feeling low, even simple things like a walk in the fresh air or a short bike ride can quickly lift your spirits and help you to feel much better.

When you do exercise, your body releases endorphins which help to boost your mood and give a ‘runner’s high’.Studies have shown that consistent aerobic activity and release of endorphins can, in the long run, help with stress control and memory. This is especially useful at the moment as exams are coming up, since exercise has the double benefit of both improving mood and helping with academic performance. This in turn can also further enhance your mood and beat stress!

With the end of the semester on the horizon, many students are starting to feel the pressure of final deadlines, dissertation hand-ins and upcoming exams, meaning that stress levels are higher than usual and mental wellbeing is suffering. As the pressure rises, it is important to ensure that you are taking care of your mental health, it is easy to neglect and this could lead to your performance suffering.

It is much harder to concentrate and work effectively if your mental health is poor, so it is important to stay on top of it and care for your mind the same way you would for any physical condition. For many, talking about mental health problems can be hard, leading to shame and therefore feeling worse.

Mental wellbeing must be cared for just as much as physical wellbeing, as your brain and mind need looking after just as much as any other part of you. Neglecting poor mental wellbeing and hoping the problem will go away on its own can lead to more serious problems such as anxiety and depression. Whilst solutions such as exercise and a healthy diet will not provide an immediate cure, they can certainly make a big difference.

One common problem with using exercise as a way to improve mood is that often those suffering can find it hard to motivate themselves to get out and do an activity. There are solutions for this, such as finding online videos for yoga or easy workouts, meaning that exercise can be done from the comfort of your own room. An alternative way of sneaking in more activity is to exercise with a friend. This has the added benefit of socialising, which is also another great way to lift your spirits. You could motivate each other along the way,  and perhaps join a fitness class at a gym so that you have a set time each week to work out.

Another option if you live sufficiently far from campus is to buy a bike and get pedalling. Cycling to university can be a great way of doing some exercise, as well as being environmentally friendly. It also saves time and, if you feel like it, you can always extend your ride at the end of the day to get a bit more exercise done.

Although more severe mental health issues should be treated by a doctor, there is certainly strong evidence to suggest that exercise can lift low mood or help to reduce high stress levels. It is a simple way to improve your mental wellbeing and socialise with friends, and can also be used as an effective study break if you need something to take your mind off work.

[Image: Historygradguy via Flickr]

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