The impact of physical activity on mental health

Physical activity helps increase and maintain the level of mental health

Physical activity is one of the key factors supporting mental health and general well-being. Most people enjoy physical activity, and, in fact, it has been proven that physical activity also boosts one’s self-efficacy, i.e. one’s belief in their own abilities. This is one of the mechanisms through which physical activity has been discovered to prevent depression and anxiety.

In addition, physical activity improves one’s cognitive abilities. These impacts are, in many respects, long-term and permanent. Engaging in regular physical activity is known to, for example, change the way the mind responds to different stress factors in life. Physical activity is a form of brain maintenance that keeps the mind sharp in the middle of intense knowledge work and supports the brain’s ability to produce new ideas. Physical activity also improves sleep, which, in turn, enhances one’s memory.

But what is the logic behind this? The human mind is a biological system and so is physical activity. Both take place inside the same being, and the interactions between movement and the mind can be explained with various evolution-linked connections between the brain and other body parts. Without discussing these mechanisms in too much detail, the logic can be summarised like this: movement and the mind are closely intertwined as a carbon bond!

Physical activity is medicine for the brain

The aforementioned information explains how and why exercise is also a form of treatment. Regular physical activity is an excellent way to treat depression and diabetes, for example. Engaging in daily physical activity, such as walking, has a positive impact on one’s well-being, mood and sleep.

Pihlajalinna’s personal physical activity advice service, provided by an occupational physiotherapist, helps employees find the best type of activity for them. Physical activity is taken into account in many occupational health services for individuals, such as health check-ups.

How and how often should I exercise?

When it comes to supporting mental health, the form of physical activity does not seem to matter significantly. The point is to be active and find a form of physical activity that you enjoy and can keep doing on a regular basis. Cycling to work or taking the stairs instead of a lift count as regular physical activity. Specifically performed physical activity, i.e. exercise, benefits the mind in the same way. For some people, group exercise brings about a sense of belonging that enhances one’s well-being. One special element worthy of mention is nature: engaging in physical activity in a natural environment has particularly favourable psychological effects.

It has yet to be determined how much physical activity is sufficient or optimal for mental health and well-being. According to a general recommendation, 2.5 hours of brisk physical activity per week or 1 hour and 15 minutes of strenuous exercise per week should be sufficient. Going for a longer walk once a week is already beneficial. It is also important to note that starting or increasing regular physical activity benefits the most a person who exercises little.

In addition to physical activity, it is essential to ensure sufficient recovery, i.e. prioritise sleep, rest and relaxation to balance physical stress, including stress caused by intense exercise. Let us highlight one more form of physical activity: breathing deep also counts as physical activity. Breathing deep consciously helps you calm down and anchor yourself in the moment.


The employer can support physical activity at work

The employer can support the mental health of its personnel by creating a workplace culture that promotes physical activity. For example, the employer can offer its personnel sports benefits. Forms of physical activity during working hours include walking meetings (also remotely), treadmills at display screen workstations, and opportunities to exercise during the working day.

This article discusses the average benefits of regular physical activity. The actual benefits of physical activity depend on the person. If you are still wondering if regular physical activity could improve your well-being, do not hesitate to try it.

Enjoy your physical activity journey!


Lauri Raivo

Service Manager, Occupational Physiotherapy


Sources: Duodecim, Terveyskirjasto, UKK Institute


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