It’s no secret: regular exercise helps to maintain good physical health and prevent many serious illnesses. What if physical activity could also be beneficial to mental health? An increasing number of scientific studies and experts in the field are pointing in this direction and are providing concrete evidence of the effects of physical activity on the brain!

Benefits of Physical Activity on Mental Health

Mental health is not just the absence of mental illness. It is defined as a state that allows us to act and achieve our full potential in society while coping with life’s uncertainties. It is an equilibrium state that helps us find ways of dealing with change and daily challenges. However, with the hectic pace of modern life, the prevalence of mental disorders such as depression and anxiety continues to rise, hence the importance of highlighting simple and accessible ways to curb this phenomenon.

The more studies published on the subject, the more we agree that the effects of exercise on our mental state are important, but complex. The relationship between regular physical activity and mental health is linked to 3 main mechanisms:

  • Biological Effects: Physical activity stimulates the production of hormones such as serotonin, known for its antidepressant and mood regulating effects. Endorphins are also produced during exercise, which directly helps reduce the negative effects of stress.
  • Psychological Effects: Regular exercise improves self-esteem while allowing us to better control the negative thoughts that dwell during periods of anxiety or depression.
  • Social Effects: Sports, particularly as a group activity, help improve the feeling of social engagement and inclusiveness into a community.

Importance of Pleasure and Intrinsic Motivations

When it comes to regular physical activity, a person’s intrinsic motivations and pleasure are particularly important, especially for their mental health.

It has been shown that playing a sport only to lose weight or create a body image that will be judged positively by others can have negative psychological effects. On the other hand, people who engage in physical activity for fun, challenge or to relax (i.e. intrinsic motivations) are not only more likely to keep doing regular exercise over the long term, but they are the ones who benefit the most from it psychologically.

Integrating Exercise into Your Life

When it comes to integrating exercise into your daily life, the keyword is: fun! For some people, the practice of team sports improves their feeling of belonging to a group and, consequently, their feeling of social inclusiveness. For others, the practice of an individual endurance sport can promote a feeling of surpassing oneself. In short, there is no magic formula for enjoying the many mental health benefits of regular physical activity.

However, here are some tips for people who want to make exercise a part of their routine, but don’t know how to get started:

  • It is important to focus on physical activities that are accessible and can be easily integrated into daily activities. Do you have a gym at work? Make the most of it! Walking, jogging and cycling are other activities that can be done easily and with little equipment.
  • Go gradually! Physical activity should be included in a progressive way to avoid overtraining and injury.
  • A 30-minute daily physical activity session is generally recommended for maximum benefit.
  • Try several activities. It is sometimes necessary to test several sports to find the one that suits us best and keeps us motivated.

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