Sweat dripping from your face, your muscles aching as you push through. One more, you tell yourself, just one more, until you’ve reached 30 or 40 reps. Exercising is something that many people do. Whether it be going to the gym, going for a hike, or even taking a walk, exercise can be used to get in good physical shape. It is also equally as important in helping with your mental health. It can help with a person’s mood and stress as well as more serious mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, PTSD, and trauma.
A recent study done by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health showed that running for 15 minutes a day or walking for an hour reduces the risk of major depression by 26%. The way exercising affects people with anxiety is similar, it also releases endorphins in your brain that relieve tension and boost your mental and physical energy. Exercising is one of the easiest and most effective ways to reduce symptoms of ADHD, as physical activity boosts the brain’s dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels which helps with focus and attention. People with PTSD or any form of trauma can also be helped by exercising, according to the website Help Guide, “evidence suggests that by really focusing on your body and how it feels as you exercise, you can actually help your nervous system become ‘unstuck’…..move out of that immobilization stress response.” Exercises that engage cross-movement such as running, swimming, or dancing are all beneficial to mental health.
Health teachers at WSHS agree that exercising helps mental health, and has helped their own. “When I go more than a few days without some type of movement, I find myself becoming a little irritable or less patient,” said Health and P.E. teacher Ms. Barnacle. Similarly, Mrs. McDonnell, a health and Child Development teacher also knows and has experienced the positive impact exercise has on her overall health. “When I am in a good routine and I am very active, I sleep better, stress and worry less, have less muscle tension, have an improved digestive system, and have less anxiety.”
Exercising causes lower rates of mental illness because of many reasons, one of which is the brain releasing chemicals such as serotonin, stress hormones, and endorphins, which amounts change when you exercise so you can be less stressed, and happier all from going on a walk. Another factor is that exercise can be used as a distraction from negative thoughts that a person may have, it can also be a way to socialize and get social support. Exercising does not have to be going to the gym for hours multiple times a week, it can simply be going for a walk every now and then when you are feeling stressed. “I think the most important piece of the mind-body connection that I want students to walk away with is that you don’t need to engage in extreme exercise to feel the benefits,” said Ms. Barnacle. “If someone can incorporate activity into their daily routine, they’ll likely notice a few things… Improved mood, Increased energy, Improved sleep quality, Improvement in body image and self-esteem.”
Many students here at WSHS exercise, whether it be for a sports team, in their own free time, or both. Fiona Lamallari, a junior here at West Springfield High School feels that, “ Exercise has affected my mental health positively because its been a coping mechanism.” When she runs, she feels more energized and less stressed. Senior Emily Bergeron also uses running and track as a stress reliever. “It’s definitely a stress reliever. Working with my team every day in a positive environment is fun,” she said. Many kids, especially high school students, have a lot going on in their lives, so when they don’t have work or school they are inactive during their free time. During this time you might feel unmotivated to do anything but it is a great time to take a walk or go to the gym. Senior Samantha Swenson who plays softball said “….it also gets me out of my comfort zone, allowing me to socialize a lot and make bonds with the people on my team. It gives me something to look forward to.” For many people exercising with a partner or group of people can help make the experience more enjoyable and therefore make you more likely to do it again. Studies have found that aerobic or gym exercises help promote good health. Some of these exercises that you could do in your everyday life are swimming, cycling, walking, boxing, weightlifting, and more. “Directly and indirectly, exercise benefits individuals in a variety of ways. Its impact on mental health isn’t always the reason why people are active, but it is another motivator and for some even a lifeline,” McDonnell said.