Exercise and Mental Health: Olympic Gymnast Simone Biles Sets the Example
Simone Biles is the greatest gymnast of all time. She has won 25 world medals since 2013 and was the first American woman to win five all-around national titles. It makes sense that she spends a lot of time in the gym, but she also knows the importance of good mental health.
Simone says, “For a while, I saw a psychologist once every two weeks. That helped me get in tune with myself so that I felt more comfortable and less anxious.”
What many people do not realize is the fact that getting regular exercise can be extremely beneficial to one’s mental health. This has been scientifically proven. Here, we want to discuss those benefits.
The Importance of Exercising for Mental Health
People with serious mental illnesses are at a high risk for chronic diseases that are associated with side effects from their medications and sedentary behaviors. They could eventually be diagnosed with conditions such as:
- Heart disease
- Worsening or new mental health issues
The newest research has shown that getting enough exercise is a piece of advice that is often ignored by mental health professionals. It should not be.
Aerobic exercise, such as walking, swimming and dancing have been shown to have a positive effect on depression and anxiety. Experts believe that this is due to increased blood circulation to the brain, among other reasons.
Many professionals also believe that exercising regularly provides a distraction from life’s worries as well as a way to socialize with others. It improves self-esteem and cognitive function, which can have a direct impact on one’s mental health.
How Can Exercise Improve Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety?
The Mayo Clinic reports that exercising can help a number of health problems, including mental health. But the link between depression/anxiety and exercise is not completely clear. Not only can it help people feel better when they are struggling with their symptoms, but regular physical activity can also keep depression and anxiety from coming back once they are under control.
Getting regular exercise can help people by:
- Distracting them from the things they are worried about, which disrupts the negative thought cycle that is often associated with depression and anxiety.
- Releasing feel-good endorphins in the brain, which is a natural way to enhance a person’s feelings of well-being.
- Help people gain more confidence when they meet their exercise and health goals.
- Provide people with more social interaction, even if that means just smiling at those around them. That alone can improve their mental health.
- Giving them a positive way to cope with the stressors in their lives, which is much better than drinking alcohol or constantly thinking about their mental health challenges.
What Types of Exercise Programs are Recommended for People with Mental Health Concerns?
There is research that shows that any type of physical activity – not just formal exercise programs – can help improve mental health. When we think of exercise, we often think about activities like lifting weights in the gym or running laps around a track. While both of these are good, they do not appeal to everyone.
The key is to get physically active in some way, but it should be doing something that the person enjoys. All of the following can qualify:
- Walking the dog.
- Washing the car.
- Cleaning the house.
And exercise can easily be fit into the course of a person’s day too. For example, they may decide to start taking the stairs instead of the elevator at work, or they may park as far away from the entrance as possible when going to the store.
Over time, it all adds up. As little as 30 minutes of exercise 3-5 days per week can make a dramatic difference in a person’s mental health.
Getting Started with an Exercise Program and Staying Motivated
Most Olympic gymnasts hit their peak when they are in their teens. By their 20s, they are out of the sport completely. Knowing this, it is amazing that Simone Biles has been able to accomplish everything she has, and the fact that she is 24 years old and still a competitor is rather impressive.
But how do people get started with a good exercise regimen and stay motivated? The National Alliance on Mental Illness offers some great information:
- First, people must believe that getting more exercise will benefit their mental health.
- Exercise causes people to feel more confident, loving and positive, overall. It can improve self-confidence and self-esteem.
- People should consider getting their entire family on the same exercise routine. It can model healthy behaviors and promote good mental health in every family member.
- Getting motivated can be tricky when it comes to exercising regularly. But motivation is an important skill that can be built over time.
- Identifying one’s negative thoughts about exercise is the key to learning how to change them. For example, a person might think that walking for 30 minutes is too hard, but they can work to change that thought into something like, “If I walk for 30 minutes, I’ll feel better than I did when I woke up this morning.”
- Overcoming any roadblocks to exercise is critical. Sometimes people believe that they do not have time to exercise, but by challenging that roadblock, they can come up with a solution that works for them. Setting goals that are easy to achieve is also vital in helping people stay motivated and on track. It can be helpful to set both short and long-term goals and celebrate one’s progress along the way.
Should Your Mental Health Treatment Plan Include Exercise?
At Mindful Care, we believe it should. There are so many benefits to getting enough exercise on a regular basis, including improving your mental health. Perhaps that is the piece of the puzzle that you have been missing.
We appreciate the example set by people like Simone Biles, but you do not have to be an Olympic gymnast to experience the positive effects of regular exercise. In fact, we can help you brainstorm some ideas for getting more physical activity into your day as a part of your treatment plan.