Daily Physical Activities Can Boost Your Well-being and Mental Health:
It’s been that time of year again when my daughter and I head out to take part in the Ely Festive 5k in support of the amazing people at the Arthur Rank Hospice Charity.
My daughter tells me that this is the fifth year we have taken part, although as you might expect, this year was a little different and so rather than a few hundred of us racing together, we headed out around Ely in a virtual version of the event. Every year she says she never wants to do it again, followed by changing her mind (a few dozen times), telling me she is going to train this time, not training, and having me push, cajole, and occasionally encourage her over three miles (and this year someone from her school bubble ran with us too, which apparently made it sooooo much better than previous years!).
I’ve written many times about the benefits of exercise for your mental health and well-being. Certainly I find exercise, like running and boot-camp, play a massive role in maintaining my own good mental health and in making me feel better in myself. Most of this research has tended to look at more structured exercise when evaluating the mental health benefits. So what about the mental health and well-being impacts of more common daily physical activities, like walking, gardening and going up stairs?
Thankfully some recent research has started to look at these things.
Before I get onto that, here’s a quick picture from our Ely Festive 5k virtual run:
I do love my bushy Santa beard! Although I seem to spend as much time adjusting it and getting bits of fake whisker out of my mouth as I do running!
And I really do want to say a big thank you to Busy Bee Recruitment. They sponsor some free child entries to the run each year, which is a wonderful thing to do, and this year I was lucky enough to win free places for both my daughter and her friend (obviously I’ve converted them into donations to Arthur Rank, as in this difficult times I’m sure every penny helps them).
Now, I’ve written many times before about the physical and mental health benefits of exercise, and the research to support it. Research has shown that exercise can help with depression and anxiety symptoms, and that running reduces your risk of certain health conditions. I’ve written about the research, and why you should get exercising for your mental health here: Ely Festive 5k 2019 and Why You Should Get Running For Your Mental Health (which coincidentally was written after last year’s Ely Festive 5k).
Mental Health and Well-Being
Before moving on to look at the mental health impact of your daily physical activity, it’s worth highlighting the negative health impacts of being sedentary. Sedentary behaviour refers to sitting or lying while expending low amounts of energy. Spending 6-8 hours a day sitting around like this increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and numerous other health conditions. And, of course, having a health condition can lead to anxiety, stress and depression and other mental health conditions.
Replacing sedentary time with time on other behaviours can boost your mental health and well-being. Research suggests that short and long term psychological benefits may result from reducing the amount of time you spend sitting (total time or long periods) with other uses of your time, such as light or moderate physical activity.
This is covered more over in this article: Boost Mental Health By Sitting Less and Moving (or Sleeping) more.
Those results perhaps already imply that normal day to day activities (light exercise) is going to be valuable to your mental health and sense of well-being.
Indeed, the World Health Organisation has recently published guidance on physical activity and sedentary behaviour. These guidelines suggest that some physical activity is better than none, and that more physical activity is better for optimal health outcomes. They also highlight the importance of regularly undertaking both aerobic and muscle strengthening activities, and limiting sedentary behaviour (Bull et al. World Health Organization 2020 Guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behaviour, 2020).
Reichert et al (A neural mechanism for affective well-being: Subgenual cingulate cortex mediates real-life effects of nonexercise activity on energy, 2020) investigated the role of daily physical activities, such as climbing the stairs and gardening, have for mental health and well-being.
They found that these forms of daily activity, which make up the bulk of our daily physical activity, increased feelings of energy and could enhance well-being and mental health. Because everyone engages in these sorts of activities, even if they don’t engage in exercise activities, the researchers believe this area could be targeted to help maintain and improve well-being and mental health. It could be as simple as using the stairs instead of a lift, or cycling instead of taking the car, all things that should be relatively easy to incorporate into your daily life (If you want to know more about the brain science in their findings then check out the research using the reference below).
The net result of all of the research and evidence then, seems to point towards the benefits of moving more for your mental health and well-being. There is a ton of research about the psychological benefits of exercise, and now, more and more evidence on the benefits of moving more and sitting less. And if daily activity can help your maintain and boost your well-being and mental health then it makes sense to take as many opportunities as you can to move more and feel better.
To your mental health and well-being,
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Bull, F.C., Al-Ansari, S.S., Biddle, S., Borodulin, K., Buman, M.P., Cardon, G., Carty, C., Chaput, J.P., Chastin, S., Chou, R. and Dempsey, P.C., 2020. World Health Organization 2020 Guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behaviour.
Reichert, M., Braun, U., Gan, G., Reinhard, I., Giurgiu, M., Ma, R., Zang, Z., Hennig, O., Koch, E.D., Wieland, L. and Schweiger, J., 2020. A neural mechanism for affective well-being: Subgenual cingulate cortex mediates real-life effects of nonexercise activity on energy. Science Advances, 6(45), p.eaaz8934.