Supporting Positive Mental Health through Physical Health

When you think of physical health, you think of fitness and wellbeing where all internal and external body parts are working, as they should. The World Health Organisation define Mental Health “as a state of wellbeing in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” (WHO, 1992). While these two health factors are often thought of as very different, they are actually very similar. Both revolve around a person’s wellbeing and how it is maintained. Maintaining good physical health can ensure that you keep good mental health and vice-versa.

Mental health has a huge effect on physical health, much more than people realise. This is why sports psychology can potentially be a very lucrative field as coaches around the world recognise how maintaining a good psychological state and mental health can seriously enhance performance. We have seen a very recent example of this with the England football team at the World Cup. They outperformed any England team in recent years and one of the main reasons is due to their psychological state, sense of togetherness & resilience. An example of their good decision making is that they decided on a no phone rule at dinner so that they were more cohesive as a team.

Sadly, it also works the other way in that problems with mental health seriously increase the risk of problems with physical health. People with a mental health problem are twice as likely to die from heart disease and someone who suffers from depression or schizophrenia is likely to die an average of 10-17 years earlier than someone who doesn’t. This is therefore very strong evidence for why mental health should always be cared for and checked on, like with physical health. Mental health problems are bad enough by themselves but they can also cause physical health problems on top of it.

There are multiple ways to check for signs of someone struggling with a mental health issue. Resources to increase awareness and understanding can be found elsewhere on the Team Mental Health website.

One of the best ways to improve your mental health and keep it at a good level is by exercising and improving your physical health at the same time. A short 10 minute burst of exercise has been shown as enough to raise energy, alertness and positive mood. Participation in regular exercise can also increase self-esteem and reduce problems such as stress, thus improving physical factors such as heart health. It has also been shown to seriously decrease the risk of serious mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.

Real life examples of this can be seen in everyday life. I personally used to seriously struggle with self-esteem issues and lacked self-worth. It was only when I discovered the benefits of running and the gym that my mood and value of myself was able to change. Running would always make me feel so good when I had completed it as I felt like I had conquered the toughest part of my day and nothing else could phase me, not to mention the amount of positive hormones released during prolonged exercise. The gym was simply to give myself some body confidence and, vain as it sounds, to allow me to be happy when I looked in the mirror but this is what I needed to overcome my mental struggles and exercise was the only thing that had ever really done it. All of this has culminated to allow me to feel confident in myself and this helps in all aspects of daily life and means I feel able to contribute in group discussions and to whatever team that I may be part of. These real life benefits have come solely due to exercise and the same thing can work for anyone who is willing to try it.

A study was performed which asked people to rate their mood immediately after periods of physical activity and then immediately after periods of inactivity. The findings came back that the participants felt more awake and more satisfied after periods of physical activity compared to after periods of inactivity. It was also found that the physical activity had the greatest effect on mood when the mood was initially low; this therefore evidences how exercise can be especially effective in not just improving mental health but improving poor mental health and helping to combat problems.

Getting into exercise is simpler than people think. There is often the idea that you need lots of fancy and expensive equipment as well as a membership at a high tech gym, but it really can be as simple as putting on a pair of trainers and going for a jog around the block. As you get better and more confident, you can increase what you do and the complexity of it. An example of this would be following a fitness-training regime as the routine can be good practice for staying on top of things and this can relate to your emotions. As well as this, the harder you push yourself with your exercise, the more self-respect you will have. Therefore, a simple start really can lead to a whole world of positive outcomes.

The mental health problem that exercise is perhaps the best at combatting is depression. Some studies have shown that exercise can be as effective as antidepressants when it comes to treating mild to moderate depression and it definitely has less side effects. Exercise causes many changes in the brain that promote wellbeing such as neural growth and new activity patterns. In addition, exercise releases endorphins, also known as ‘feel good chemicals, in the brain that increase positive mood and reduce the strength and frequency of feelings of sadness.

Depression is the leading cause of suicide in the UK and the most common illness amongst adolescents. Consequently, it is one of the most prominent problems in today’s society and if exercise is a proven way to combat it then we should explore it and try to apply it whenever possible. One example of this would be in the school system. Depression is most common in teenagers and is the most common problem that young people face. By this logic, it should be something that schools do all they can to combat but sadly in my experience, and anyone else my age that I have spoken to from other schools, the support just isn’t there. Young people aren’t educated on the benefits of exercise in combatting depression and improving mental health and if they were then we could be looking at very different statistics for mental health problems in young people.

The government are beginning to make steps in dealing with mental health problems e.g. making mental health education compulsory as of September 2018, however there is still so much more that can be done. The amount of exercise done in school needs to increase in order to improve student morale. This is especially relevant around exam time as many students are driven to severe mental health lows due to the amount of academic stress that they put themselves under and exercise could be a real outlet for this and ensure that students maintain a level head through the exam period and perform to the best of their abilities. As someone who recently did his GCSE’s, I can say that I wish we were given more support like this and I hope to see future generations given what we were deprived of as it will have an unprecedented amount of benefits.

Louis McCarthy, Year 12 student

References

World Health Organization. (1992) The ICD-10 Classification of Mental and Behavioural Disorders: Clinical Descriptions and Diagnostic Guidelines. World Health Organisation.

Bibliography

Breene, S. (2017) 13 Mental Health Benefits of Exercise. Huffingtonpost.com (online). (Accessed July 2018). Available at: https://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/2956099

Mental Health Foundation. (2016) How to look after your mental health using exercise. Mental Health Foundation (online). (Accessed July 2018). Available at https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/how-to-using-exercise

Robinson, L., Segal, J. and Smith, M. (2018) The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise: The Exercise Prescription for Depression, Anxiety, and Stress. Helpguide.org (online). (Accessed July 2018). Available at: https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-living/the-mental-health-benefits-of-exercise.amp.htm

Ryan, K. (2015) How to improve your wellbeing through physical activity and sport. Mind (National Association for Mental Health) (online). (Accessed July 2018). Available at: https://www.mind.org.uk/media/2976123/how-to-improve-your-wellbeing-through-physical-activity-and-sport.pdf

World Health Organisation. (2014) Mental Health: a state of wellbeing: Fact files. World Health Organisation (online). (AccessedJuly 2018). Available from: http://www.who.int/features/factfiles/mental_health/en/