Why fitness matters to your physical and mental health

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Woman exercisingIt’s a well-known fact that physical activity is a key component to maintaining optimal health. Being active helps with weight management, reduces increased heart rates to normal ranges, and helps maintain a healthy blood pressure, among many other benefits. But did you also know it could help with your mental health as well?

First, fitness provides you with a mental break by concentrating on something other than your work, family or anything else that might be stressful. Concentrating on the exercises you’re performing at the gym, focusing on the intervals you’re completing in your running program, or following your opponent while playing a sport, all increase the chances that you will not think of the stressful components in your life, but rather on the task at hand.

Second, physical activities redirect your thoughts as well as manage your stress response. Studies show that physical activity increases the concentration of the hormone norepinephrine in brain regions that are involved in your body’s stress reaction. This chemical is thought to play a major role in modulating the action of other chemicals in the body that play a direct role in your stress response, similar to the results from some antidepressant medications.

Physical activity also benefits your mental health. Some psychologists believe that physical activity improves your body’s ability to deal with stress through regular practice. It forces the body’s physiological systems to communicate with each other much more closely than usual. This might be the core benefit of physical activity since the more sedentary we become the less efficient our bodies are in response to stress. There are of course other equally important mental health benefits, including: increased self-esteem, improved sleep, reduced feelings of anger or frustration – just to name a few.

Here are a few guidelines you should follow before you start your fitness plan:

  • Consult with your doctor: Make sure there is no medical issue, especially if you haven’t exercised in a while or if you have a pre-existing condition.
  • Walk before you run: Build up your level of fitness gradually.
  • Do what you love: Any form of physical activity can increase your level of fitness. Choose something you love and it will be a lot easier to do regularly.
  • Schedule it: Plan in advance when you will do your activity.
  • Be selfish –a little bit: Take time for yourself. If you don’t, you will not be able to be there for others.

If you are interested or require some assistance in getting started on working towards a healthier you, please contact your EFAP service today to access the Fitness Coach Connects program.

By Jonathan Fontaine-Duval. Jonathan has a bachelor degree in Kinesiology from University of Sherbrooke. After receiving his degree, he worked as personal trainer, as well as an activity coordinator for children aged 4 to 12 years old at a community center. He also worked at a military base, training recruits who needed to get fit to pass their military fitness test, and those injured during their basic military training. Jonathan also completed several certifications, such as National Lifeguard, Certified Exercise Physiologist from the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology, and Spinning Instructor from Nautilus Plus. He is now a Fitness Coach in the Fitness Coach Connects program.

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