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Mindful Monday: How movement improves our mental health

PUBLISHED: 09:30 21 September 2020

For most people, just doing 30 minutes of exercise a few times a week is enough to significantly improve mood   Picture: PAGEPIX

For most people, just doing 30 minutes of exercise a few times a week is enough to significantly improve mood Picture: PAGEPIX

Archant

Getting the right amount of movement each week is important to good mental wellbeing. Whenever we exercise, our bodies release endorphins which are the body’s pleasure chemicals, making us feel good, encouraging us to keep exercising.

Ezra Hewing, head of Mental Health Education at Suffolk Mind   Picture: Gregg Brown PhotographyEzra Hewing, head of Mental Health Education at Suffolk Mind Picture: Gregg Brown Photography

However, each time we do some exercise, the amount of endorphins we receive is reduced, which motivates us to do more or try something different. For most people, just doing 30 minutes of exercise a few times a week is enough to significantly improve mood.

Research shows that regular exercise can be just as effective as medication at lifting depression and reducing anxiety, but without the potential unpleasant side effects.

Movement also helps reduce high levels of the stress hormone cortisol. In small amounts, cortisol is useful to gently alert the cells in our body and brain, and activate our defences against injuries and infections. High levels of cortisol can damage brain cells, cause physical inflammation and inhibit the immune system.

If stress goes unaddressed it can trigger a number of physical conditions too, such as high-blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, stomach ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, skin conditions including eczema, and alopecia, and heart conditions.

Low intensity exercise, such as going for a brisk walk, reduces cortisol levels.

There may be another reason to be physically active too; brains only exist in animals which need to move to get food, keep warm and stay safe. A plant doesn’t have a brain, because it doesn’t need to move. But if we don’t use the brain to move about, then connections in the brain start to wither away.

Research shows, for example, that if we spend too much time at a desk, or on the sofa, without regular breaks to get up and move about, we are at increased risk of depression. If we don’t use the brain, we lose the brain.

To download or request a useful card with more information about movement and mental health as part of the Great British Week of Sport, click here.

To find out more about Suffolk Mind, click here.


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