We all know it … it’s all over our televisions, our social media newsfeeds, the internet … it’s completely unavoidable. The physical benefits of exercise are irrefutable. And although the discourse is swiftly changing, many of us still associate exercise with just physical benefits, not mental. Why is that? So many of us hit the gym every day to get that ‘perfect summer-bod’, but do you realise that the benefits of regular physical exercise go far beyond our musculoskeletal system?
Scientists have spent recent decades researching the positive effects of exercise on our mental health, and the evidence is overwhelmingly clear. It reduces stress, prevents cognitive decline, sharpens our memory, helps control addictive behaviours and even helps us sleep better at night – not to mention assists with depressive emotions and feelings of anxiety.
Let’s break it down... Exercise makes you feel good because it releases chemicals such as endorphins (also found in chocolate! and who doesn’t love chocolate) dopamine and serotonin which improves your mood. It does this by pumping a significant amount of blood to the brain (meaning that these chemicals get pumped around and around, making you think more clearly). The release of endorphins in our body is a pleasurable one. It’s best described as an immunity to pain.
It is concerningly apparent that many of those whom grieve, can suffer from an associated mental illness (or at least display similar symptoms) such as depression, PTSD or anxiety and the cyclical torture of all that goes along with such can be crippling; going around and around, one affliction influencing the other. In fact, when grieving, it can become so unbearably painful that we cease to think, to make decisions and/or to process the realities of what we are experiencing.
That’s where exercise comes in.
Even incidental exercise can have a drastic positive effect!
Regular physical exercise is the most natural and effective way to treat the unrelenting destructive thought patterns in our life (those thought patterns that keep us stuck in our grief, unable to move on, think of the future or be thankful for the present).
In fact, here’s a small list of the proven mental effects of physical exercise –
Sharper memory and thinking. The same endorphins that make you feel better also help you concentrate and feel mentally sharp for tasks at hand.
Higher self-esteem. Regular activity is an investment in your mind, body, and soul. When it becomes habit, it can foster your sense of self-worth and make you feel strong and powerful. You’ll feel better about your appearance and, by meeting even small exercise goals, you’ll feel a sense of achievement. You may think it selfish to be thinking of yourself whilst grieving, but that is simply another of those negative thought patterns.
Better sleep. Even short bursts of exercise in the morning or afternoon can help regulate your sleep patterns. If you prefer to exercise at night, relaxing exercises such as yoga or gentle stretching can help promote sleep. And sleep, as we know, assists us to make good compos decisions.
More energy. Increasing your heart rate several times a week will give you more get-up-and-go. Start off with just a few minutes of exercise a day – you do not have to BE one of those pin-up people you see on your social media newsfeed, you simply have to do what is in your capability to do so.
Stronger resilience. When faced with mental or emotional challenges in life, such as the loss of a loved one, exercise can help you cope in a healthy way, instead of resorting to alcohol, drugs, or other negative behaviors that ultimately only make your symptoms worse. Regular exercise can also help boost your immune system and reduce the impact of stress.
The Team at OMG know that this may well just be another exercise-related article that is passed over, but we are writing about it because we believe it … we KNOW it to be true.
Exercise can and does have undeniable benefits and can help us become unstuck from the paralyzing grief we feel. Some exercise, any exercise will continue to see you journey this road of grief with clarity of mind, strength and courage.
By Angelica Klein-Boonschate