exercise and mental wellness

Exercise and Mental Wellness

Scripture states, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13). While we can find strength through this verse for any of life’s challenges, I have been pondering this lately regarding health and wellness. We know that we will experience physical and mental illness during our lifetime; however, we can do great things to improve our wellness because of our strength in Christ. Caring for our bodies and minds is a responsibility given to us by God and doing so is an act of faith.

Maintaining a moderate regular exercise regimen has been proven to improve emotional wellbeing, manage stress, and improve self-esteem. Research has shown that burning 350 calories three times per week through a sustained sweat-inducing activity reduces the symptoms of depression. Exercise has been found to improve our ability to learn and focus on high-attention tasks. Cardiovascular exercise may be especially helpful for children with ADHD to improve motor and executive functioning skills. Individuals with schizophrenia who are physically active have also been found to have a significant reduction in symptoms, disorganization, and emotional distress.

Did you know that exercise can promote the growth of nerve cells in key areas of the brain which may alleviate depression and anxiety? Exercise decreases hormones that are produced in response to stress. Exercise also increases antidepressant neurotransmitters such as serotonin and GABA which help to improve mood, reduce anxiety, and regulate sleep and appetite.

Both aerobic and strength training can help depression by reducing inflammation.  This is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic when increasingly sedentary lifestyles are negatively affecting health. Additionally, recent research has found positive effects of exercise in reducing inflammatory enzymes in the brain which are a direct response to the infection caused by coronavirus. Reducing these inflammatory enzymes leads to survival of nerve cells in the brain and possibly reduces the development of mood disorders such as anxiety and depression.

Exercising outdoors increases benefits in the pursuit of mental wellness. Enjoying the beauty of God’s creation allows us to shift our attention outside of ourselves. We also benefit from fresh air and sunshine (which provides us with vitamin D, essential to our wellbeing.) A smile or a “Hello” from a passerby along the way also encourages social interaction, lifts loneliness, and brightens a day.

The benefits of physical activity and exercise across the lifespan are well-documented. Do not despair, it is never too late to improve our levels of activity. Begin with small changes, even performing movement seated in a chair, walking within or around your home, playing with a child, or taking a stroll in the neighborhood will make significant improvements in your mental health. Gradually try new activities and increase the duration of exercise. With time and patience, you will be amazed at the things you can do and the improvement in how you feel. We can inspire our families and friends to do the same. Our healthy habits are a way to praise God and share our hope with others. “For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:20).

Amy Batista, MSN, APN, ANP-BC is a board-certified Nurse Practitioner who performs assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of psychiatric conditions by integrating a holistic approach with Christian principles and evidence-based medicine. She believes in treating clients with the utmost respect for individual differences, cultural backgrounds, and life experiences. Her passion is for every person to understand their worth and find trust and hope in God’s plan for their lives.