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Doing Too Much, Doing Too Little and Your Mental Health!

While everyone around the world is stuck inside, it seems like an appropriate time to talk about this.

Most people are pretty well aware the benefits physical activity has on your physical health. But it is also so important for your mental health. Research and studies from around the world back up that exercise and physical activity can positively impact your mental health. For some of you, exercise is linked to your social activities and social groups, your brain associates it with smiles, laughs and friendship! For others, it is their escape from work and responsibilities which lets their brain associate exercise with relax or chill time. It can positively impact your self confidence, and so many things. But for everyone, the main reason it impacts your mood is a thing called endorphins.

Boring But Important: What Are Endorphins?

Endorphins are basically some feel good chemicals that are released in response to pain, stress, exercise, and other activities. They are produced and stored in your pituitary gland. Your pituitary gland is a tiny gland at the base of your brain. While it is tiny, it is seriously mighty. This gland is also known as the Master Gland, and that it is. It controls much of the hormone action in your body and brain. Endorphins are connected with our brain’s natural reward cycle. When you do the ‘feel good’ activity, endorphins are released giving you that good feeling.

Endorphins are still a complex part of our body’s function. They are important and like all other hormones in your body, it is important to keep them regulated. Over doing any ‘good thing’ can potentially lead to your brain to under or over regulate and become out of balance.

Doing Too Little:

Physical inactivity has a major impact on both physical and mental health. From just a physical perspective, physical inactivity can lead to weight gain, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and other non communicable diseases. Keeping your body moving is important to keep it healthy and working well. If you want to know more about how important physical activity is for your physical health, stay tuned for the future articles!

While doing too little can be bad for the physical body, it can wreak havoc on your mental health too. Physical inactivity negatively impacts everyone’s brain - whether or not you have a preexisting mental health issue. Not exercising has been proven to lower and slow cognitive function, basically thinking is hard when you are inactive! And because your brain is your body’s boss poor mental health can lead straight back to poor physical health.

You can start small with achievable changes. Commit to 10 minutes of stretching a day. Get out for a 30 minute stroll around the block (or somewhere prettier if you can!). Try some at home yoga. Get on board with some at home workouts (equipment or not). Then you can start building up to trying that fitness class you’ve been looking at or completing that longer run you have been thinking about. It doesn’t have to be 10/10 intensity always. Start slow and find your rhythm. But just remember, doing something is always better than nothing.

Don’t be fooled, everyone has the time - it is just about doing it.

Depression, Anxiety, Anger and Other Mental Health:

For people who are struggling with anxiety, depression or any other mental health issue - hearing ‘just get active’ can be really frustrating. Exercise won’t reset your brain completely, especially if you are feeling it more than normal. However, exercise can lift your mood and help your head. Staying some sort of active is important always, but even more so when you are stuck at home (like right now #quarantine).

Regular exercise has shown to lower and regulate the body’s anxiety, depression and anger responses. For the nerds out there, regular exercise is associated with lower sympathetic nervous system and lower hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis reactivity. To put it simply, this HPA axis is important in developing responses to stressors (both physical and psychological). Exercise assists in regulating this axis, and therefore your brain’s responses. The more regulated all the chemicals and responses in your brain are, the better you feel.

Exercise is important, but I am not out here telling you to lace up your shoes and run a marathon on a bad mental health day. Go for a short walk. Do some yoga or even some sit ups in the living room. Start small and build your way up. Getting into routines will pave the way to many other things. It is easier said than done, but really push and challenge yourself to get moving - even on the really dark days.

Doing Too Much:

For some people it is easy to get so in the groove of exercising that they over do it. With more people staying at home and/or working from home, there are more people finding they have time to get a sweat on. While this is so great, make sure you aren’t pushing too hard. If you have just come off an extended period of no exercise or light exercise, take it slow when you are getting back into it. Excessive amounts of intense exercise can cause the brain to make less endorphins, which then makes you want to work out even harder to get the same feeling. So yes, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing!

How to Avoid Too Much:

  1. Listen to your body. It is a pretty incredibly smart piece of machinery. If it is feeling slow, sore, or tired, that is a great cue to slow down or back off.

  2. Take rest days. This doesn’t mean take three months worth of rest days off. It depends on your personal goals and limitations but generally two rest days a week are good.

  3. Get your mobility and stretching in! Put some dedicated time aside to get in the habit of doing mobility and stretching. Start with 10 minutes a day and build up from there. It sounds like a mission, but really you could get that done during the intro of your favorite show. Cruising on your phone? Watching a show? Stretch it out!

  4. Warm up properly. If your body is warmed up you are less likely to injure yourself. 5-10 minutes of warming up at least should be done before any exercise!

  5. Lastly, but still so important, PACE YOURSELF! Don’t push yourself to the breaking point and then have to take time off. Pace yourself responsibly and you will be able to exercise more consistently which will lead to more progress.

It doesn't have be to be a revolutionary change in your lifestyle. Activity comes in many forms and it can still be things you enjoy. Aim for 20 - 30 minutes and build up from there. Chase your dog around the yard. Pull some weeds and do some gardening. Take a walk. Have an aggressive vacuuming session! Physical activity and exercise comes in many forms, you just have to find yours!

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