The Positive Effects of Exercise on Mental Health & Well-being

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Written by Lauren Irvine

The need to talk about our mental wellbeing and looking after our mental health has never been more important than it is right now. World Mental Health Day on October 10th is an annual day with the aim of raising awareness about mental health issues on a global scale.

On average, suicide claims the lives of approximately 800,000 people each and every year, which equates to 1 person losing their life to suicide every 40 seconds. It’s the leading cause of death for young adults aged between 15-29 years. With close to one billion people worldwide living with a mental disorder, depression is one of the biggest causes of illness and disability in adolescents and adults (1).

As a result of the global pandemic, local businesses have been forced to close, parents have been left without incomes and families are struggling to pay their bills. The additional factor of social isolation has severely impacted the mental wellbeing of many different communities across the globe and highlighted the fact that anyone can be affected. With no definite end to the impacts of the pandemic and a widespread recession, the negative effects on our mental health could be long term.

However, throughout the entire pandemic, the importance of exercise for our mental health and general wellbeing has been widely promoted. In 2019, the World Health Organization published a report which looked at exercise as both an effective treatment of, and preventative measure for, mental illness stating, “Physical activity can be used as a complementary strategy with other treatment modalities to prevent and manage mental health conditions, as it can delay their onset and reduce a wide range of symptoms.” (6)

“Physical activity leads to an increased production of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, which are known to be lowered in several mental health conditions, as well as a higher number of newly generated neurons, which are important for learning and memory formation.” (6)

The World Health Organization’s slogan for this year’s campaign is, “Move for mental health: let’s invest.” The campaign has a big focus on governments investing in the mental health sector, due to an increased demand within the community for these services which are already lacking. The World Health Organization says, “Despite the universal nature and the magnitude of mental ill health, the gap between demand for mental health services and supply remains substantial.” (1)

As part of this year’s campaign, on August 27th the World Health Organization shared some concerning statistics, emphasizing a greater need for both awareness and funding within the mental health sector. “The lost productivity resulting from depression and anxiety, two of the most common mental disorders, costs the global economy US $1 trillion each year,” they revealed, adding, “On average, countries spend less than 2% of their national health budgets on mental health.” (2)

On October 6th – as part of their 2020-21 budget – the Australian Government pledged an additional $100.8 million to go towards “up to 10 additional Medicare-subsidised psychological therapy sessions each year for patients with an existing Mental Health Treatment Plan.” (3) With the current number of Medicare-subsidized therapy sessions being capped at just 10 sessions per calendar year, this will enable Australians to access double the amount of government subsidized sessions over the next 2 years.

Additionally, the Australian federal budget included a significant investment of $65.2 million to go towards suicide prevention, with a focus on early intervention and enhanced youth support. (4)However, more awareness still needs to be brought towards the benefits of regular exercise and the positive impacts it has on mental health and general wellbeing.

The World Health Organization’s 2019 report, Motion For Your Mind, reported the following findings: (6)

  • Physical activity is a protective factor for depressive symptoms in all age groups.
  • More physical activity can decrease the risk for depression by up to 45%.
  • As little as 60 min of physical activity each week is sufficient to prevent 12% of new cases of depression.
  • Physical activity is as effective as cognitive behavioural therapy or antidepressant medication for mild depressive symptoms.
  • People with severe and treatment-resistant depression benefit from physical activity (in combination with antidepressants).
  • Physical activity can be effective treatment for depression throughout the life-course: in children, adolescents, adults, the postnatal period and late life.
  • Effects have been seen in all settings, including the community.

As such, the positive impact of exercise on the general community and those suffering from, or at risk of suffering from depression is evident.At Clean Health Fitness Institute, we are passionate about helping our students create a ripple effect through the promotion of regular exercise, due to the multitude of positive benefits not just on just physical health, but mental health.

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  1. World Health Organization. (2020). World Mental Health Day campaign. World Health Organization (WHO).
  2. World Health Organization: WHO. (2020b, August 27). World Mental Health Day: an opportunity to kick-start a massive scale-up in investment in mental health.
  3. Australian Government Department of Health. (2020, October). Prioritising Mental Health – Doubling Better Access Initiative sessions.
  4. Australian Government Department of Health. (2020b, October). Prioritising Mental Health – enhancing suicide prevention.
  5. World Health Organization. (2020). World Mental Health Day campaign. World Health Organization (WHO).
  6. World Health Organization: WHO. (2019). Motion For Your Mind: Physical activity for mental health promotion, protection and care.

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