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  • Writer's pictureMatt Schubert

Mindful Movement: The Secret Connection Between Exercise and Mental Wellness


Physical activity has long been recognized as a key contributor to overall well-being, with numerous benefits for both physical and mental health. Endurance sports, in particular, have gained significant attention for their positive effects on mental well-being. Engaging in activities such as running, cycling, swimming, or triathlons not only enhances physical fitness but also provides various psychological benefits. This article explores my own journey in finding mental health through exercise and what I found as its greatest benefits



how does exercise effect mental health


When I was in my early twenties, I was failing out of junior college, unemployed, and frequently hung-over in bed until the late afternoon. On a trip home for the holidays my family went to a local Barnes and Noble and by happenstance I noticed a book called "Be Iron Fit" by Don Fink. I was interested in focusing more on fitness in my life, so I grabbed the book not knowing what to expect. Little did I know I would read the entire book that night and sign up for an Ironman triathlon the next week. A little inspiration is all it took and I was on my way to a new life


Benefits I found through training for endurance sports:


1.     Stress Reduction: Exercise offers a natural outlet for stress relief. Regular participation in physical activities reduced my stress levels, alleviated my symptoms of anxiety, and improved my overall mood. This is because physical exercise triggers the release of endorphins, which act as natural mood enhancers and stress reducers. Cardio based exercises, with their extended duration and sustained effort, provide an opportunity for individuals to enter a state of flow, where they become fully absorbed in the activity, leading to a sense of calm and increased mental clarity. Did you think mindfulness is only done by sitting still and focusing on breathing? Not a chance!

 

2.     Enhanced Cognitive Function: Engaging in regular exercise has been linked to improved cognitive function and mental acuity. The increased blood flow and oxygen delivery to the brain during exercise contribute to enhanced focus, concentration, and memory retention. Regular exercise has also shown to have a positive impact on executive functions, such as problem-solving, decision-making, and multitasking. These cognitive benefits extend beyond the duration of the physical activity, positively affecting individuals' mental performance in daily life. Going from flunking out of junior college to magna cum laude honors in a graduate MBA program was no fluke. It was physiological changes in my mind and body that enabled this success

 

3.     Mood Regulation and Emotional Well-being: Exercise has a profound impact on mood regulation and emotional well-being. Physical exercise stimulates the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, which play crucial roles in regulating mood and emotions. Regular participation in exercise has been associated with reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety, increased self-esteem, and a greater sense of well-being. Moreover, the social aspect of endurance sports, such as group training or participating in events, fosters social connections and support networks, further contributing to improved mental health outcomes. I met life-long friends through these activities. We shared in our successes and had plenty of time to talk about our failures

 

4.     Stress Resilience and Coping Mechanisms: Exercise provides individuals with an opportunity to develop and strengthen their stress resilience and coping mechanisms. The physical and mental challenges inherent in endurance activities help individuals develop perseverance, discipline, and determination. Overcoming obstacles during training and competitions translates into increased self-efficacy and confidence, which can positively impact how individuals handle stress in other areas of life. The ability to set and achieve goals, manage setbacks, and maintain focus during long-duration efforts can enhance resilience and equip individuals with valuable coping skills that extend beyond the sports arena. These coping mechanisms cannot be underestimated. Learning that you can go on, even hours after you feel “dead and buried”, is something you never forget

 

During the next five years I completed two full Ironman traithlons, five half Ironman’s, five fifty+ mile runs, and a dozen marathons. I also made strides in my educational endeavors graduating from undergraduate school, and then obtaining my MBA, both with magna cum laude honors. I also landed dream jobs as an ocean lifeguard and high school water polo coach before starting my own business as a charter fisherman. In addition, I met my wife during this time and we are happily married with two daughters now twelve years later. It was like my life was on hyperdrive! Not only did the endurance activities bring all this success to my life, but it brough a calming to my mind, body, and soul. I was happy


Conclusion


Exercise has a profound impact on promoting mental health. The combination of physical exertion, stress reduction, cognitive enhancement, mood regulation, and the development of resilience and coping mechanisms makes exercise a powerful tool for individuals seeking to improve their psychological well-being. My story is just one of millions of people who changed their life with the help of exercise. Incorporating endurance activities into one's lifestyle can lead to positive mental health outcomes, fostering a greater sense of balance, happiness, and overall quality of life. As with any physical activity, it is important to consult with healthcare professionals and engage in these sports safely and responsibly, considering individual fitness levels and personal circumstances



exercise and mental health

Matt Schubert is a mental health counselor in Boise who operates Gem State Wellness serving all the communities of Idaho including Boise, Nampa, and Meridian. Matt specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy with children and adults

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