We’ve long suspected that physical activity has a positive effect on mental health, but recent studies have applied science and data to prove that mind-body connection.
A recent study in Frontiers in Psychology examining the relationship between mental health and physical exercise during COVID-19 lockdowns found physical exercise “had significant positive effects on reducing mental health burdens including…anxiety, depression, stress, and fear for all age groups.” It examined people taking part in home-based group entertainment exercise and sports and found the best mental health improvement occurred after just 30-60 minutes of moderate-intense exercise, 3-5 times per week.
Another recent study led by Karmel Choi, post-doctoral fellow at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health analyzed genetic data to find “robust evidence of a protective relationship between physical activity and the risk of depression.” The study’s findings support the hypothesis that “enhancing physical activity is an effective prevention strategy for depression.” While mental health issues may have no one, perfect cure, Choi advised readers to just “start somewhere—remember that something is better than nothing at all.”
As a lifelong sports fan, I rely on various sports and exercises to not just keep my body feeling good, but my mind too. Working out for 45-75 minutes every morning helps me get in the right mindset to start my workday. An evening rock climbing session or hockey game helps me relieve stress while expending enough energy to get a good night’s sleep. Physical exercise plays a major role in keeping me present and focused at work and in preventing feelings of burnout.
LifeSpeak offers robust, expert-led physical wellbeing guidance for employees and clients. Use the following strategies from LifeSpeak experts to help your people explore the mind-body connection and improve mental health through physical exercise.
Expert tips to embrace physical wellbeing
“How do I get enough exercise in my day?”
That’s a question personal trainer and family therapist Tim Sitt hears a lot. To help people be more active, he distinguishes between exercise and movement.
“Movement is very different than exercise because movement is something that you can scatter throughout the entirety of your day,” Sitt says. “A lot of research is showing that prolonged sitting is the new smoking. And what that means is that it’s associated with all kinds of chronic illnesses like diabetes, and obesity. And one of the things that we can start to do is think about disrupting our sedentary time.”
Movement is more accessible than traditional exercise, which involves commuting to the gym, taking a shower, and other activities that can be hard to fit into an already packed day. It also offers other benefits like connecting with other people on a walk while getting some fresh air too. Our culture of constant sitting makes it difficult to get up and move as often as we’d like, but with a little perseverance and dedication, anyone can do it.
If you’re ready to take the next step into more structured exercise, identify what activities are best for you—that way you’ll be more likely to stick with them. Fitness expert Tom Toth likes to narrow this down through the “introvert/extrovert dichotomy.”
As an introvert, Toth says he finds group activities stressful. He prefers lifting weights, following a yoga video, or going for a jog. He finds exercising by himself to be restorative, facilitating creative ideas.
“If this sounds familiar,” Toth says, “try to find times in your schedule to exercise by yourself or with just one or two people. This might require getting up earlier, before your family wakes up, or taking time during lunch to go for a 20-minute run or bike ride.”
Conversely, extroverts can explore cross fit, spin class, group yoga, or even dancing—anything where they can feed off the energy of other people in the room. Extroverts can also consider bringing friends or family members to classes they like. Doing so can help them stay accountable to their exercise routine.
Finally, remember these common wellbeing myths, courtesy of personal fitness specialist Bruce Krahn. Avoid them to progress faster on your journey.
Myth 1: Cardio is best for fat loss.
As Krahn says, cardio is catabolic, which means it breaks things down—fat, yes, but muscle as well. There’s an optimal amount of cardio for each person, typically two to three times per week. For fat loss, pairing cardio with lifting weights or other types of exercise is the best approach.
Myth 2: Yoga makes muscles long and lean.
According to Krahn, muscle insertion points are fixed, meaning you can’t make a muscle longer. Yoga improves flexibility and posture to give the appearance of being taller, longer, and leaner. In terms of fat loss, yoga doesn’t create enough adrenaline to stimulate significant results.
Myth 3: More exercise is better.
“This is actually really kind of a relief,” Krahn says, “because that’s absolutely untrue.” People need to find the minimum amount of exercise for maximum results. Too much exercise can wear down the immune system and deplete muscle mass; too much exercise can even cause weight gain!
No one is perfect, and progress isn’t always linear
But it’s important to remember that optimal exercise doesn’t make a personl immune to mental health issues. World-famous athletes from American basketball players Kevin Love and DeMar DeRozan to Olympic gymnast Simone Biles and Japanese tennis phenom Naomi Osaka have spoken publicly about their personal struggles with mental health. Their experiences reaffirm the need to be patient and compassionate with others and, most importantly, ourselves. We can’t predict when mental health challenges will arise, and our paths to physical and mental wellness aren’t always linear.
Wellbeats and LIFT session are two great ways to enhance physical wellbeing support for your people. Wellbeats provides on-demand fitness and nutrition classes, and LIFT offers live mindfulness practices and exercises that your people can schedule into their calendars. These two offerings complement the LifeSpeak platform to provide total mental health and wellbeing support.
Learn more about how LifeSpeak can help you take care of your people here.
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