Harvey’s #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek Blog: exercise and combatting loneliness
The relationship between exercise and mental health has been discussed for millennia. The ancient Greeks believed it was a duty of citizens to attain and maintain a healthy mind and body, they even created the Olympics to celebrate and compete over their physical health which started as far back as 776 B.C. Back to the modern day, it is mental health week, and therefore a perfect time to discuss this millennia-old relationship once again. The focus on mental health is ever-present but, in this week, the focus is narrowed the topic of loneliness. This blog will explore the unfortunately common feeling of loneliness and how, through exercise, we can better handle it, or avoid it altogether.
Loneliness is a problem that affects people from all walks of life. In total, twenty-five million, or, 45% of people in the UK will feel lonely in some capacity. The feeling of loneliness can worsen mental health over time, research from 2015 showed that loneliness puts people at greater risk of cognitive decline and dementia, and it can even increase your blood pressure.
Throughout times of loneliness, one way in which it can be managed or potentially eliminated altogether is through exercise. Exercise helps us actively engage with the world around us, it can help increase your sense of individuality whist also improving your physical and mental health. Often the hardest part of exercise (especially when it’s not a habit) is just getting started. If you have any concerns regarding your physical health when getting started with exercise, please seek the advice of a healthcare professional.
Because we are social animals, when we are lonely and don’t have the social connections we desire, our brains perceive this loneliness as if it were physical pain. This physical pain equivalent can be relieved through the trigger of Endorphins. When we exercise, our brains trigger the release of Endorphins which are a hormone and our bodies’ natural pain killer. The release of Endorphins can make us feel an increased sense of well-being and self-esteem. This can reduce the negative effects of loneliness whilst also increasing your physical and mental health.
Exercise can also help expand your social circle. You can take part in the local Park Run or join a local badminton club (or whatever sport you wish to take part in). There are often many clubs that are open to people from any skill level, so you don’t need to be a professional to take part. It’s perfectly natural to try out many different sports before finding the one that suits you, but once you do, you can feel an increased sense of wellbeing and you might just make new friends in the process.