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Sports and Well-Being: The Positive Effects of Physical Activity on Mental Health

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People love to play sports for a variety of reasons, whether it’s out of a desire to improve their own physical health, a love of competing, a way to improve themselves as a teammate or leader or because of the simple desire to have fun. 

While the physical benefits of exercising are well known, something that we’re just starting to learn about is the benefit that exercise can have on one’s mental health. The mind and body are linked in ways that scientists are just starting to figure out about, and here’s a look at how improving the health of one can impact the other. 

Experts generally say that the positive impacts I’m going to list can occur with as little as 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day. It doesn’t have to be something hardcore like going to the gym and lifting weights, either. Just going for a walk around your neighborhood or while you’re on your lunch break can improve your mental health for the better in myriad ways. 

The link between brain and body

As comforting as it may be to spend a day inside from time to time, hanging out on the couch or watching a movie, the simple fact of the matter is that humans, like all other animals, are social beings who like to move around. From an evolutionary standpoint, being active is how one finds food and stays physically fit enough to survive: they call it survival of the fittest for a reason. As such, your body and mind benefit from behavior that helps them succeed.

Furthermore, it helps to think of your healthy body as a well oiled machine. For the sake of this metaphor, consider a car, a machine that has thousands of moving pieces. If one part of it starts to go bad, like a spark plug or a wheel bearing, it’s going to cause other things to start breaking down too if it isn’t properly addressed. 

The human body is much the same way, where if you neglect your physical health, your mental health will take a hit too. Incorporating the proper amount of exercise into your daily routine will help you maintain a healthy balance in life, helping you to sleep at the right time, fine tuning your appetite, or because of the simple fact that you’ll start to feel better about yourself, walking with that extra pep in your step as you go about your day. 

The happiness chemicals

In our increasingly mental health oriented world, we’re starting to hear more and more about it and how important it is every day. While it may seem overwhelming at first, like the barrage of advertisements you’ll see for sportsbooks on television, it’s because mental health is crucial to happy, healthy living, making it interconnected with all that we do. 

I mentioned earlier how exercise can impact your diet and sleep patterns. While part of the mechanism for that seems pretty obvious—exercise makes you tired, encouraging you to sleep at an earlier hour instead of staying up long into the night, and calories that you burn need to be replaced if you’re trying to maintain the weight you’re at—it’s more complicated than just that. 

When you exercise, your body releases chemicals like serotonin and endorphins, which make you feel better. If you’ve ever had people talk about having a runner’s high while exercising, that’s the layman’s term for the complex chemical process occurring, their brains literally telling their bodies to feel better through the use of these chemicals. 

Weight loss

Being a heavier weight than what is considered the norm or the beauty standard isn’t necessarily a bad thing: measurements like BMI are biased against certain body types, failing to take into account the difference between muscle, bone density and fat.

With that being said, some diseases are linked to those with a higher body fat percentage, like high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and cancer, and both weight loss and exercising can help prevent or mitigate these conditions. Once again, you’re naturally going to feel better if you’re taking better care of yourself, and exercise is a critical part of that. 

What’s even more interesting is the fact that you can start at any time: say you or a loved one are older and struggling with a condition like having strokes, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.

You may think that the ship has sailed, given that you already have these diseases, but physical exercise can help mitigate these symptoms, just like it can slow down the progression of high blood pressure or heart disease.

Ellen Diamond, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.

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