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Before becoming a Personal Trainer and founding Innerfit, I worked at a US investment bank and spent two years in strategy consultancy. Projects led me from Mumbai to Moscow, and regularly demanded working weekends, 12+ hour days and the odd 36-hour shift. It was an amazing, but physically and mentally demanding experience.
Working with law firms and 1-1 clients in the industry, I’ve realised stress and anxiety are common. Hundreds of cases, 1,200+ chargeable hour targets, and a seemingly 24/7 push to perform can make maintaining good wellbeing, both mentally and physically, a real challenge.
There is more to life than fitness. But, I believe the benefits of physical activity on our mental health are massively underused and underappreciated. Integrating physical activity into a busy schedule can be a struggle at the best of times. But it is worth the effort.
Exercise can help with stress and anxiety
Emotional stress becomes physiological stress because our body has only one (physical) response. When the “fight or flight” response kicks in, physical changes play out, for example: increased heart rate, tense muscles, raised blood pressure and faster breathing.
Exercise has a similar physical effect on the body the heart rate, but without the negative psychological tension. Studies show an inverse relationship between anxiety sensitivity and exercise frequency. Regular aerobic exercise and resistance exercise both help reduce anxiety.
Exercise helps you sleep better
Physical activity has also been proven to reduce stress by improving sleep. Lack of sleep tells our body we need to be hypervigilant, just 1 hour of lost sleep raises cortisol levels, your body’s main stress hormone.
A study showed months of aerobic exercise improved sleep in a sample of older UK adults with insomnia. Another study showed 12 weeks of moderate-intensity aerobic and resistance exercise was enough to reduce the severity of snoring .
Exercise can help with depression
Research shows physical activity can be just as effective for treating low to moderate depression as drugs. One paper found that people with high (vs. low) physical activity around 20% less likely to experience depression. Comparing people with high versus low physical activity consistently showed that people who engage in most activity were least likely to develop depression. The most potent effect was found for those engaging in over 150 minutes of moderate activity per week.
Physical activity has also been shown to boost creativity, memory and overall cognitive performance.
Chris is the founder of Innerfit. Before becoming a Personal Trainer, Chris worked at a top US investment bank, Strategy Consultancy and Sports Marketing agency. His experiences taught him physical and mental well-being sit at the heart of performing and feeling at your best. This article borrows from the Innerfit talk ‘Exercise is Medicine – Movement & Mental Health’ in sharing some of the science behind how physical activity can impact our mental and some practical steps to back it up.
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