Everyone knows it’s good to stay active — but not everyone knows the best reason why. In today’s age of diet culture and constant monitoring of bodies, it’s easy to get caught up in seeing fitness only as a means to an end. For many people, that end involves a certain body shape or fitness levels, a goal that can be as impossible as it is harmful.
Research actually suggests another important reason for physical activity often overlooked, one that won’t require you to start researching the latest fad diet: a genuine and scientifically backed improvement to your mental health and wellbeing.
According to the country’s National Institute on Aging, exercise is essential to set you up for better mental health. Listed benefits aside from physical ones include better sleep, reduced levels of stress and anxiety, bettering cognitive function and focus and reducing depressive feelings.
Campus, too, has done extensive research on the connection between mental and physical health, and has numerous resources for students hoping to get more active.
UC Berkeley’s Exercise is Medicine-On Campus program, or EIM-OC, is an effort between campus’s Rec Sports, School of Public Health, physical education department and University Health Care, or UHS.
Nationwide, the EIM-OC program, created by the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Medical Association, aims to connect health care and physical activity together for people of all different types of abilities, according to its website.
The site also provides a long list of benefits that apply to adults of all ages who are more physically active.
People who are more active report increased quality of life — reduced symptoms of anxiety and incidences of depressive states for both people who are healthy or have diagnosed mental illnesses. Research also shows physically active people have reduced risk of diseases such as dementia.
This research is backed up by other sources, too. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America, or ADAA, suggests that even only five minutes of aerobic exercise can begin to improve anxiety symptoms.
The same article from the ADAA suggests that people who regularly engage in vigorous exercise are 25% less likely to develop a depression or anxiety disorder in the following five years. The effects of physical activity may be especially helpful when paired with therapy or other treatment for those who have existing mental illnesses.
In the campus explanation for the program, the EIM-OC website explains the program is meant to support student “engagement” to improve “mental health, physical health, and wellbeing.” Additionally, “there is clear evidence that engaging in regular physical activity benefits mood, aids sleep, reduces academic stress, helps treat chronic disease, bolsters immune response to illnesses, and reduces the symptoms and severity of depression and anxiety,” reads the EIM-OC site.
To help students get more involved in their personal fitness journey, the program allows students to access orientations that introduce them to physical activity resources on campus, health and self-coaching training and fitness consultations.
With so many mental benefits to exercise, it’s upsetting that the focused-on aspects usually include physical changes to one’s body — what really matters far more is how you feel, whether your improvement is physical or mental. With so many proven health benefits, it’s important for everyone to explore what works for them, what brings them the greatest benefit. Who knows? You might just find that your morning run has more benefits than meets the eye.