How Fitness Affects Mental Health

There’s no question that the COVID-19 pandemic has been stressful and trying time for many. People are unable to see friends, family, and coworkers, and no one can venture out in public anymore without a mask. Everywhere you look, there is fear, and fear leads to hopelessness.


Suicide is on the rise, rates of depression and anxiety have nearly quadrupled from previous years, and we still can’t see an end in sight. In a way, the loneliness reported by so many during this time is its own form of disease that must be actively treated and prevented at all costs.


But how does one deal with a mental health crisis during these strange times? One way is of course to do everything you can to stay in touch with friends and loved ones, but another is through physical fitness.


The Role of Fitness in Mental Health.


The term “fitness” can be broken down into two major categories: Diet and exercise


Diet

Insulin resistance is what happens when your body is unable to effectively regulate blood sugar levels. In extreme cases, this can lead to diabetes, but in less severe cases, it can cause symptoms of depression.


In a 2013 study known as the PREDIMED study, participants were put on a Mediterranean diet to assess its effects on overall health. The study found that in addition to reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, the Mediterranean diet also reduced symptoms of depression by as much as 32%. The study found that in this case, diet changes had a greater impact on mental health than social support.


Exercise

Exercise is known to not only regulate stress levels, but also protect the brain against age-related decline and mental health issues. This works because exercise stimulates the production of a protein called BDNF (Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor). BDNF causes neurons in the brain to grow and form new connections. This, at least in part, explains how exercise plays a role in keeping the mind sharp and young.


Yoga

A 12-week clinical study found that a regular Yoga practice brings about changes in the amygdala and sensory motor cortex. These are two areas of the brain responsible for processing and regulating emotions. This supports the notion that Yoga is a therapeutic practice in addition to a healthy form of exercise.


Even though lifestyle changes can seem intimidating at first glance, the truth is that small changes can bring about big results if sustained over time. If you need some help getting started, you might consider hiring a health coach.


https://doi.org/10.3945/an.113.005389


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