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Is it a good idea to work out when feeling mentally stressed?

You know it, we know it, everyone knows it! Yes, it is a good idea to work out when feeling mentally stressed. But if you decide to do so, it is pertinent to gauge how and what amount of workout is good for you. 

This discussion has always been in talks, but the other way around. People who exercise regularly are motivated to do so because it gives them an enormous sense of well-being. They feel more boosted throughout the day, feeling more relaxed and positive about themselves and their lives. And it’s also a powerful medicine for many common mental health challenges. So this establishes that working out consistently lays down a positive result on the mind’s overall health. 

Now coming back to where we started! If we were to combat stress coming from, say workload, that too time and gain, it may be safe to assume that a lifestyle modification is required. An essential component of lifestyle modification is exercise. The importance of exercise should be adequately understood or appreciated by people who are stressed and mental health professionals alike. 

Working out while experiencing stress

Aerobic exercises, such as jogging, swimming, cycling, walking, gardening, and dancing, have been proven to reduce anxiety and depression. These improvements in mood are proposed to be caused by exercise-induced increase in blood circulation to the brain and by an influence on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and, thus, on the physiologic reactivity to stress.  This physiologic influence is probably mediated by the communication of the HPA axis with several regions of the brain, including the limbic system, which controls motivation and mood; the amygdala, which generates fear in response to stress; and the hippocampus, which plays an important part in memory formation as well as in mood and motivation.

Many research studies have explained the beneficial effects of physical activity on mental health include distraction, self-efficacy, and social interaction. Lifestyle changes that focus on the accumulation and increase of moderate-intensity activity throughout the day may be the most appropriate for most people who are experiencing any sort of mental stress. In their research study - The benefits of an exercise program for people with schizophrenia: a pilot study, the authors found that patients suffering from schizophrenia who participated in a 3-month physical conditioning program showed improvements in weight control and reported increased fitness levels, exercise tolerance, reduced blood pressure levels, increased perceived energy levels, and increased upper body and hand grip strength levels. 

Thirty minutes of exercise of moderate intensity, such as brisk walking for 3 days a week, is sufficient for these health benefits. Moreover, these 30 minutes need not be continuous; three 10-minute walks are believed to be as equally useful as one 30-minute walk. Mental health professionals can viable advise their patients to use exercise as a way to improve their condition as it helps in:

  1. Improved sleep
  2. Increased interest in sex
  3. Better endurance
  4. Stress relief
  5. Improvement in mood
  6. Increased energy and stamina
  7. Reduced tiredness that can increase mental alertness
  8. Weight reduction
  9. Reduced cholesterol and improved cardiovascular fitness

Moderate exercises for the time when the mind is not in a relaxed state

Right now, when we have been, yet again, pushed into the four walls of our homes, some or the other sort of mental stress is upon us. There is no way to not live with the fact that there is a deadly virus that has taken over the world. Our eyes, our ears just can’t escape the brutal reality that the pandemic has brought with itself. As we find ourselves running out of options to keep our mental sanity in place, exercising at home is an effective way to do so. There are tonnes of avenues available on the internet, both paid and unpaid, that can help us in getting started while staying at home. Not being able to go outside for a jog? Look for some cardio or HIIT routines to get the heart rate up. Not being able to attend your yoga classes, find a trainer online. As you start to exercise, you will feel the calmness within. It utilises the vented up energy and puts it to good use. The best part being that the impact of continued exercising is long term.

We got Ms. Avadhi Sharma, a psychotherapist in Delhi to explain the relationship between mental stress and physical activity. 

“As our mind experiences any kind of distress, it basically tells our body to step back and take some rest. It is in this stage that we should not choose to over-strain our body rather connect with it. We should listen to our bodies and make sure that the energy flows freely in them. When the mind is tense there is some stale energy that does not work for us. We might not want to get up at all or face the world. Here is when we should take to physical exercise, nothing too tedious but something as simple as taking a small walk in a garden barefoot. It may be interesting to note that the lockdown changes nothing in this regard. If you can’t go out, take a walk around the room or your hall. Take this time to connect with the elements that constitute your body.”


REFERENCES:

Sharma, A., Madaan, V., & Petty, F. D. (2006). Exercise for mental health. Primary care companion to the Journal of clinical psychiatry, 8(2), 106. https://doi.org/10.4088/pcc.v08n0208a

https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/exercising-to-relax. (2020, July 7). Https://Www.Health.Harvard.Edu. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/exercising-to-relax

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