Mental health and exercise: working together for wellbeing

A woman walking up a hillBy Vanessa Racine, social medias coordinator

The Canadian Mental Health Association estimates that 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a mental health crisis or be diagnosed with a mental illness. By age 40, that ratio increases to every 1 in 2 Canadians. While the benefits of physical activity on physical health are well known, being active can also be an effective pathway to good mental health.

A question of wellbeing

The term “mental health” doesn’t merely refer to an absence of mental illness. According to the World Health Organization, it is “a state of wellbeing in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”. The fast pace of modern life can sometimes throw off our mental balance, which is why it’s important to find simple and effective strategies to keep it steady. Physical activity is one of them.
Although you won’t often see “more physical activity” written on your prescriptions, it’s often recommended as a way to counteract and manage many diseases. Mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety are no exception.

Benefits for your mind

According to Quebec’s national public health institute, physical activity can have numerous benefits for your mind, such as:
  • Boosting your mood and energy levels.
  • Inspiring a feeling of pride, self-esteem and general wellbeing.
  • Improving your ability to concentrate and accomplish day-to-day tasks.
  • Reducing your stress and improving your ability to manage it.
  • Helping you get better-quality sleep.
  • Additionally, if you are living with mental illness, including exercise in your daily routine can help reduce your symptoms and help you cope.
To get the most bang for your buck, choose activities that you enjoy and that suit your abilities and lifestyle.

The ideal level of physical activity

You don’t have to become a top athlete to see the benefits of physical activity on your mental health. Getting moderate-intensity (and especially aerobic) exercise for at least 15 to 30 minutes a day can be enough to see changes in your mood and wellbeing. That said, if you feel like you can and want to do more, go for it! Just remember that if you have a chronic illness such as heart disease, it’s best to talk to your doctor before starting a more intense exercise routine. It may also be a good idea to seek help from a qualified personal trainer.
In short, making physical activity a priority is an easy and accessible way to take care of your health and wellbeing, including your mental health.
To learn more about mental health, check out our online psychological first aid courses.
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