Exercise and Very Well-Being
By Christopher Campbell, AstroNutrition
“Well-being – the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy.”
This is the definition of well-being found in the Oxford dictionary. I would argue that a true state of well-being requires all of these aspects together: good health, happiness, and a level of comfort that allows for health and happiness to be realised. Exercise and physical health have been tied together for some time. But exercise is important for more than just physical health. A growing breadth of literature has begun tying exercise to psychological and mental health as well. The notion of well-being is a subjective one, but many researchers and health practitioners are now saying that exercise and overall well-being are closely linked.
In an article published in the journal Public Health Nutrition, Dr. Kenneth Fox outlines a number of psychological factors that are supported by exercise. Depression, anxiety, stress reactivity, emotion and mood, self-perception and self-esteem, and cognitive performance are all factors associated with well-being. And each of these factors, writes Dr. Fox, is supported by regular exercise.
Mild depression is characterized as frequent periods of unhappiness, and clinical depression is characterized by excessive, long-term bouts of low energy and a loss of interest in normal activity and relationships. Regular physical activity is one of the best ways to relieve mild depression, and also to limit the risk of developing clinical depression. Once clinical depression sets in, though, there is often a need for more focused treatment. Regardless, exercise is commonly the first thing health practitioners will recommend.
Dr. Fox says that exercise is widely recognised for its ability to stimulate or energise an individual, and this energising effect is what can elevate mood. A range of surveys confirm, through widely used and respected methods and criteria that quantify subjective well-being, that physical activity, even at moderate intensity, has positive effects on mood, emotion, and overall well-being. Dr. Fox further states that when individuals set personal improvement goals, the benefits of exercise and physical activity on well-being markers are even greater.
The connection between well-being and perceptions of self, which is closely related to self-esteem, is perhaps the most intuitive aspect of exercise. People who exercise regularly are, without a doubt, in better shape. People want to be able to look in the mirror and be happy with the image that is being reflected back at them. Regular exercise is the best way to ensure that the mirror reflects an image that will boost your self-esteem and provide a positive perception of self.
While body image is important, very well-being is about more than simply feeling good about how you look. Well-being is a state of mind. And the mind is positively affected by exercise. Writing for the New York Times, Gretchen Reynolds, in “Getting a Brain Boost Through Exercise”, says that exercise not only boosts psychological aspects of mood and emotion, but also stimulates cognitive functions like memory and alertness.
Reynolds outlines a study by the BrainResearchCenter at the University of British Columbia that found that the benefits for brain functions from both aerobic and resistance training are profound. Researchers found that each type of exercise targets different aspects of cognition by releasing different proteins in the body and brain. While the differences in the effects of each type of exercise were small, what is particularly important to note is that the benefits of exercise on overall cognitive function were significant.
So if very well-being is what you’re after, regular exercise should be the first thing you think about. Exercise not only keeps you in shape and in good physical health, it also supports mood, emotional health, and keeps your memory functioning while stimulating brain functions. But now that spring is here and the sun is shining, you shouldn’t need any more encouragement to get outside and play!