Garry Roth, AFLCA Certified Group Fitness Leader
Those who actively move know this: exercise can make you feel good. Studies show the link between fitness and mental health.
According to Nathalie Lacombe, a fitness and mental health expert from Montreal, fitness can impact your mental health:
- Exercise reduces stress and anxiety by reducing stress hormones in our body.
- Builds self-worth and confidence. Those who enjoy movement often are learning new skills, making new connections, and over time, develop a positive self body image.
- Reduced instances of depression and mood disorders. Exercise promotes feelings of calm and well being. It also builds resilience and coping mechanisms.
- Sleep quality and quantity significantly improves for active people. We all know a good night’s sleep can make us feel and function better. Exercise can help us fall asleep faster and have deeper quality sleep.
- Exercise also protects us against normal age cognitive decline. Exercise can improve our memory and build our ability to learn.
- Exercise can be a significant aid in addiction recovery. As already noted, it makes us more resilient, and supports better mood. Exercise can ease withdrawal and curb cravings.
So, if exercise is good for your mental health, why aren’t more people active? In Canada, approximately 70 per cent of us are classified as sedentary. Most people hate exercise because they think of burpees, push-ups, and running.
The focus in fitness should be on fun! If we are doing something that we enjoy, it will seem less like work. Any movement can be pleasurable.
Often times those of us in the fitness industry focus on the ‘no pain no gain’ concept. Instead, we should focus on wellness. Fitness isn’t about pain and reward. It is about wellness through both mental and physical health.
Here are some suggestions:
- Find something you love to do and do it. If you enjoy a sport, play on. Go for a walk, a swim, a bike ride, or attend a fitness class.
- Have fun. Look at the time you spend exercising as something to look forward to and enjoy your time doing it. Consider the positives and how good it makes you feel.
- We all run into obstacles. Even hard-core athletes have injuries or days when they feel sore or tired. It is OK to have setbacks – just keep on moving. Accept the set back and find a way to continue to move forward. This may mean seeking professional help from a trainer, physio therapist or doctor if needed.
- Eat healthy. Most Canadians also eat a very unhealthy diet. Our nutrition can impact our wellness and help fuel our activity. Not sure how to do this? Check out the Canada Food Guide as a recommended plan.
- Make social connections. Find people who enjoy the movement that you do. Go for a walk with a friend, a bike ride with a group of people who enjoy cycling, play a game on a team, or with a partner. Exercise can be an opportunity to connect with others. (It also can be a time for solitary reflection, too if you so choose).
Our bodies are made to move. Let’s find joy of movement and build that joy of movement to support our wellness, both physically and mentally.