Exercise in the pursuit of happiness

The physical benefits of exercise are well known – it helps our bodies move and function better at all stages of life. Often overlooked however, are the benefits exercise and physical activity can have for your mental health. Exercise can have a significant impact on your mood and mental wellbeing, not just your physical health.

At a time where approximately 1 million Australians live with depression and around 2 million are living with anxiety – having some extra strategies up our sleeve to help maintain mental health is more important than ever! Not only does exercise relieve depression and anxiety, it also relieves stress, improves confidence, memory and overall mood. Regardless of your age or fitness level, these benefits are something that we can all take advantage of!

There is still a lot to understand about how and why exercise improves mood. But what we do know is that there is a strong link between physical activity levels and people being generally happier and experiencing less symptoms of depression and anxiety.

These benefits can be explained in part by positive changes in the brain which are triggered by exercise. Not only does exercise lead to the growth of new brain cells, it also reduces inflammation in the brain, promotes sensations of calmness and overall well-being, as well as offer a potential distraction from negative thought patterns that might feed low mood or depression.

Not only do people who exercise regularly experience fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety when compared to people who don’t exercise, regular moderate intensity exercise has also been shown to be an effective way of treating mild to moderate depression.

It is also well documented that endorphins are released in the brain during exercise – these are essentially chemicals which act on the feel-good centres of the brain which in turn makes us feel happy!

This month on Wednesday the 20th of March is International Day of Happiness. Aside from being a day to be happy, it is also used to recognise the important role happiness plays in peoples’ lives across the world! So how are you going to get your happy-fix this month? Here are a few simple ideas you might like to try:

  • Exercise outdoors – getting outdoors when you exercise can not only be more stimulating and boost your levels of Vitamin D, some studies have shown that people who exercise outside are more likely to exercise for longer and more frequently than people who choose to exercise inside.
  • Listen to music – playing some tunes while exercising not only makes the exercise more enjoyable and improve mood, it can also increase your physical capacity and delay fatigue! When it comes to low to moderate intensity exercise listening to music has been shown to improve endurance as well.
  • Add variety – going for a walk is great. Going for a walk outdoors is even better! But if walking isn’t an activity you enjoy can you explore other options like riding a bike, going for a swim or joining a dance class. Including a variety of exercises throughout the week can make exercising more enjoyable.
  • Exercise with a friend or in a group – having someone to exercise with can make a huge difference in making activity enjoyable and sustainable over the long term. Making exercise a social activity will not only help improve mood but also help keep you motivated.
  • Diabetes Queensland offers Ready Set Go, Let’s move an information workshop specifically for people with diabetes. Designed to provide practical advice and tips to get you moving more, if you find it hard to stay on track with your physical activity this workshop could be perfect for you. If you are interested you can visit the event page on our website to find the closest program to you.

Remember: if you ever be feel low, anxious or stressed – you are not alone! Around 2 million Australians experience mental health problems at some point in their life. Whilst it is common to feel down or sad occasionally, it is important to recognise when changes to your mood or behaviour become more than a temporary thing. For more information on when are where you can seek help, the Black Dog Institute offer a number of great resources.

Alternatively, if you are in need with urgent support or experiencing a personal crisis, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14 for 24hr telephone crisis support across Australia or call 000 if your life is in immediate danger.

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