From a young age we are educated on the purpose and importance of exercise on our physical health. We are taught that it keeps our weight under control, improves our cardiovascular fitness, build lean muscle mass and can do incredible things to assist in preventing long term health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, dementia and certain types of cancer.
What we know so little about is the positive impact exercise has on our mental health and wellbeing. Regular exercise plays a particularly strong role in managing stress and anxiety, improves our sleep pattern, acts as a natural mood booster, improves and increases our energy levels, boosts our confidence and so much more.
What is Anxiety
Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear that can range from mild to very severe. It is very normal to experience anxiety on some level; it is our bodies natural response to stress after all. We might experience anxiety when taking a test, an interview, starting a new job, moving to a new area. This type of anxiety is often unpleasant but can actually encourage us to do a better job and does not interfere with our everyday lives.
However, if this fear never leaves your side and prevents you from living your normal life, this is considered a severe case of anxiety, known as an anxiety disorder.
This kind of anxiety can interfere with your sleeping pattern, can make you feel constantly nauseous and on edge and can even be accompanied by feelings of faintness and dizziness.
If this sounds like you then it is important to seek medical help. From here you can discuss your options with your doctor, for some natural remedies and everyday lifestyle changes can be enough to cope with your symptoms. Some natural remedies include:
- Getting plenty of sleep
- Moving your body and exercising daily
- Avoiding caffeine
- Following a healthy, balanced diet
- Avoid alcohol
- Avoid smoking
- Get plenty of fresh air daily
Anxiety and Exercise
Using exercise to help treat your anxiety naturally can be a really great idea whether you are experiencing mild or severe symptoms. This is because, when we exercise our bodies release what are known as the ‘feel good’ chemicals and hormones; endorphins and serotonin. These make us feel happy and at peace, more calm and in control, happier and most notably less anxious.
Additional to these hormones, simply getting up and getting out to exercise can be an amazing distraction from the internal battles you might be struggling with. Being physical can take our mind and bodies to a different place and give us another focus to think about. Furthermore, exercising can relieve stress and tension from the muscles consequently leaving us feeling more relaxed once we have stretched after a tough workout. There is also no feeling quite like knowing you have accomplished a workout!
There are other ways that exercise promotes positive wellbeing and in turn, can assist in relieving stress and anxiety:
- Exercise decreases stress hormones. While our ‘happy’ hormones are doubling, when we exercise the ‘stress’ hormone cortisol is significantly reduced. This is what gives us the natural mood boost and immediate relief from stress and tension.
- Exercise promotes confidence. With regular physical activity and a balanced diet naturally comes weight loss, toned muscles, improved strength, fitness and a healthy glow. Regular exercise may assist in helping you learn to love your body, which in turn will help you to feel confident and happy with your progress.
- Better physical health can contribute to better mental health. While stress may cause illness, illness may actually cause stress. Improving your overall health through exercise can relieve you from stress in the short term (improving your immune system and preventing colds and flu) and the long run; encouraging longevity and a healthy, happy life.
What type of exercise
Research has shown that the best way to release those all-important ‘feel good’ hormones is through aerobic activity. This can include:
- Brisk walking
- Team sports
Another form of exercise that has been proven to have amazing effects on mental health is Pilates.
How Pilates Can Benefit Mental Health
Pilates is used around the world to improve full body muscle strength, tone and flexibility. But a hidden benefit of Pilates is its positive impact on our mental health. Pilates puts a strong focus on the mind and body connection, really encouraging us to actively engage our brains so that they are switched on and developing thoughout the practice. Other way Pilates can contribute to overall mental health and wellbeing include:
- A focus on the breath. Breath is such a powerful tool and is used widely across the world in mental health practices. Similarly, our breath is an essential component of the Pilates practice. Pilates directs your focus on your breath, mind and body throughout the class. This means our never-ending to–do list, stress and worries are left at the door. Pilates encourages you to focus on the present, and not what you cannot control at that moment.
- Stress management and relaxation
- Improved memory and brain training
- A fundamental tool for treating depression and anxiety
Try to add a Pilates practice into your weekly routine at least twice a week, particularly if you are feeling more stressed and anxious than normal.
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Just know that you are not alone. Even outside of the pandemic, stress and anxiety affect an enormous amount of people. Do not feel like you have to suffer in silence. Be sure to follow me on Instagram @niix.fit and join our incredible community of supportive, friendly women all on the same journey as you!