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How The Gym Can Improve Mental Health

My experiences with the gym

As an individual who used to hate nothing more than cardio workouts, early mornings, and a balanced diet, I can say with much resentment that since I started my days by heading to my nearest gym and doing a short but effective workout, my mental health has seriously improved. Again, I was never a particularly sporty kid, I joined some typical high school sports teams but never took them further than 4:15 on a Wednesday; my relationship with fitness was pretty much non-existent.

I was never diagnosed with clinical depression but I knew that I needed to do something to boost my mood. Most mornings I would wake up with no motivation, obsessive thoughts, and most days I wouldn't leave the house or engage in any social interaction at all. However, one day I looked at myself in the mirror and I hated what I saw, nothing about how I looked made me proud to be me. I had signed up at my nearest gym and began waking up early to start my day with something positive, rather than endlessly scrolling on my socials. Within a few weeks, I began to notice a difference in myself mentally. I became more social, more productive, and more myself.

I am by no means implying that the gym can rid you of any mental challenges you may face, but I am highlighting how for some individuals, it can be the positive change that you may need to overcome your biggest obstacles when finding your happiest self.

The science behind it

Physical exercise on a regular basis has been proven to have advantageous effects on brain functions and can prevent symptoms that are related to depression and anxiety. For example, various studies surrounding the benefits of running have found that the psychological effects of this form of exercise include positive mood changes and decreased levels of anxiety. The reduction of stress and anxiety as a result of exercise allows us to maintain focus on other important things in our lives, such as jobs, hobbies, and family.

Exercise can physically change the brain in the same way it changes the heart and lungs. Different forms of exercise encourage different responses in the brain, leading to a change in its structure and function; by adding new neurons, synapses (the connections between neurons), and the production of new blood vessels, you won't just feel better emotionally and physically but also improve your general well-being. Therefore, the positive impact exercise can have on your brain's function will allow your mental health to improve and so will your ability to cope with external and internal challenges.

Reduced fitness and physical activity indicate that an individual may be more susceptible to depression than someone who is consistently active. There are strong arguments that regular physical training can act as a comprehensive aid for those suffering from depression. For example, in order to work properly, our body produces hundreds of chemicals, many of which have large impacts on our mood. When exercising, our brain produces the Endorphin Hormone. Endorphin Hormones are released when we do exercise continuously for 30 minutes or more and act to reduce stress and promote happiness. The anti-depressive effect that exercise has on the brain allows us to appreciate the importance of physical activity when considering mental health.

It is evidenced through research that a few regular trips to the gym, can have a large and positive impact on an individual's mental health; not only does it lengthen the life span of those who engage with fitness, but it also works as a non-invasive form of therapy to improve mental health and the overall quality of life.

Creating a habit...

The development of a habit is essential in achieving long-term goals, including those related to physical well-being. Being able to build good habits, like regular exercise, can lead to beneficial behaviors, and being able to bypass the conscious deliberation or need for willpower can make certain activities easier for those who may become overwhelmed by decision-making.

When considering the relationships between mental health and habits, it is important to recognize that we thrive on routine and structure. Being able to make a habit out of a good exercise routine allows us to start our day with one less decision; if you wake up in the morning and know the first hour of your day is going to be spent in the gym, you begin your day with something familiar, something that you know you can do. This ability to begin your day with something you are sure of reduces feelings of stress and anxiety.

These habits allow the individual to feel in control of their day, a feeling that is held in high importance for many; those suffering from mental illness can feel mentally stronger by being active in the maintenance of a daily routine. By consistently engaging in physical activity, individuals can expect to see improvements in their mental well-being; it is evident that fitness can create a more positive outlook for many. By beginning your day with, or dedicating a few hours a week to, exercise you can aid the effects of depression and anxiety by boosting your mood through the production of Endorphins.

No pressure!

It is not essential to be active 24/7, or have a membership at the most popular gym to improve your mental health, other hobbies and being social in other ways are just as important and can have similar effects on your mood. There is no reason to feel guilty if you don't go to the gym as often as you plan, equally, there is no guilt in deciding not to go if you are tired or just not feeling it, you have to do what is best for you! Now you have some important information on how the gym can help if you're feeling a bit down or lost, and you can decide what will make you feel better when having a bad day.

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