Mental Health & Exercise

Mental Health & Exercise

How Training Smarter Can Help You Think Better

We spoke to (med)24’s Dr Afrosa Ahmed, who oversees the clinic’s mindfulness services, about the links between working out and our mental wellbeing.


There’s a strong science behind exercise and mental health

“When you exercise your body goes into stress mode thinking it is under threat. The sympathetic nervous system is activated (also known as the fight-flight-fright pathway). To protect you from the stressor, a protein called Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) is released - which helps the brain cells to function and grow. In fact, low levels of BDNF have been found in those who suffer from depression. In addition to this protein, chemicals called endorphins are also released when we begin to work out. This gives us a feeling of euphoria and so often after exercise, we feel happier and get that ‘high’.”


The optimal amount of exercise differs for everyone

“There is no one rule fits all. However, like anything in life, the more you put in the more you will get out. There was a study by the University of Vermont, which found that just 20 minutes of exercise can boost someone’s mood for up to 12 hours. So, a good place to start would be 30 minutes of exercise 3 to 5 times a week, but you may need to build up to this gradually.”


Different methods work for different people

“Cardiovascular workouts are particularly good for mental health and happiness. A Canadian study found that doing exercises in one session, rather than spreading them out in the day had greater benefits on mood. Strength training has the same effect on mood but shown to reduce anxiety and depression also. However, activities like Yoga and Tai Chi also have a role. They activate the rest and digestion system of the body (parasympathetic nervous system) so can help relieve stress and overthinking. The key here is to find something you enjoy and will stick to. Any activity will have a benefit on your wellbeing – physical and emotional.”


(med)24 can help with this kind of regime

“The ethos of (med)24 is that we believe in holistic care. The body is not made of different systems that work separately and so we work with our clients as a whole person. We adopt a mind-body approach. The doctors, with other health professionals, will work together, so that a client can get a tailored approach.”


And for more on the latest in sports science, check out our earlier guide to running injuries here.