Everyone knows that regular exercise is good for the body. But exercise is also one of the most effective ways to improve your mental health. Regular exercise can have a profoundly positive impact on depression, anxiety, ADHD, and more. It also relieves stress, improves memory, helps you sleep better, and boosts overall mood. And you don’t have to be a fitness fanatic to reap the benefits. Research indicates that modest amounts of exercise can make a difference. No matter your age or fitness level, you can learn to use exercise as a powerful tool to feel better.
During my time at university, as a regular gym goer I knew that I would feel the effects of removing exercise from my life temporarily. My study was to assess my stress levels and over all mental health day by day without exercise in my life.
Most of my fellow students decided to aim to treat illnesses such as diabetes, osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. I chose to go down a different path and look more at the effects of exercise on mental health.
The study I carried out for my Exercise on Prescription (ECA) module was the removal of resistance exercise from my weekly routine. As a young and enthusiastic bodybuilder in the making, my training was always aimed towards hypertrophy. Cardio was also a big part of my training as I played rugby league for the university team. My study was to remove both of these elements of my life and monitor the effects it had on my mental health.
I removed the resistance training from my regime for the first week and then both resistance and rugby from my regime for the second week. The third week was to incorporate them both back in as normal and assess whether I noticed a significant elevation in overall well-being.
I monitored my mood, well-being and aggression levels twice daily for the three weeks.
Week 1: No resistance training but rugby training and game
Week 2: No resistance training, no rugby training and no game
Week 3: Resumed resistance training, resumed rugby training and game
The results I found was that when I removed resistance training from my routine, my self-esteem took a significant dose dive. Absence of the satisfaction of leaving everything in the gym and knowing that you had nothing left to give made me feel like I was slacking and wasn’t working to my full potential. This suggests that exercise positively affects your mental health as you get feeling of self-satisfaction but on the other hand this can also cause hypervigilance/body dysmorphia and suggests that exercise can be addictive and stopping suddenly can have negative effects on your own opinion of yourself. Even though no one would have ever noticed that I had stopped training for a week, you get inside your own head and can become your own worst enemy. Adequate rest and down time is the key to staying level headed and ultimately, not becoming self-obsessed.
When I removed both resistance and rugby from my routine my overall mental health was impacted significantly. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t break down or struggle to get through my day to day tasks but there was definitely a noticeable change in my mood and the most obvious change was a rise in aggression.
When I say a rise in aggression, this doesn’t mean I was losing it over trivial things and flying off the handle at any moment. Most people would not have even noticed there was a change in my mood but internally, I was aware that there was an increase in aggression and temper.
Another thing to note was my sleep pattern was disrupted as I was waking up during the night several times. I did not struggle to fall asleep but I did find it hard to remain asleep during the night. This negatively impacted my mood the following day and worsened as the week went on.
Irritability was extremely high towards the end of week two.
The only way to describe my newly implemented sedentary lifestyle was ‘climbing the walls’. Towards the end of day 5, week 2, my overall mood had definitely changed. I was starting to become more introvert instead of my usual extrovert self. In was choosing to do things on my own and stay inside or study on my own instead if the group work I would usually take part in.
When you are so used to being so active and outgoing to being majorly sedentary you don’t know what to do with yourself. You almost feel lost and isolated.
Again, this heavily suggests that contact team sports and resistance training massively reduces stress levels and anxiety. It can also alter how outgoing and sociable you may be.
My findings were the result of a self-assessment and my results are strictly limited to my own personal circumstance as I have no existing mental health issues.
The results from my brief self-study suggest that exercise whether it’s a contact sport/cardio or resistance does positively affect an individual’s mental health and well-being. It helps regulate mood, sleep and definitely controls heightened aggression levels. The feeling of self-satisfaction and self-worth that you get after completing an intense workout or performing as part of a team gives you is definitely something someone that suffers from a mental health illness should look at as I truly believe that the endorphins released by exercise can change your outlook on life for the better!
There’s always someone that is willing listen. Don’t suffer in silence!
Ryan Maude BSc