Sports and exercise play a major role in our physical and mental health. After all, sports help us find a balance in our everyday lives. After a long day at work or university, it's important to take some time out to relieve some of the accumulated stress.
Although most people dream of just sitting comfortably on the couch, it is often much more effective to get up and do some exercise. A study by the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that adults between the ages of 18 and 64 get at least 150 minutes of exercise per week. This not only prevents heart disease and diabetes but also has a positive effect on our psyche and mental health.
The link between sports and mental health
Sports offer a holistic approach to improving mental health by addressing both the physical and psychological aspects of well-being. The following are some of the key ways sports is influencing our mental health:
Stress reduction. Sports and exercise help to reduce stress and provide a mental balance.
Prevention of psychological problems: The positive effect of sports can also be used preventively and thus protect against burnout and other psychological impairments. Of course, sport should also be fun.
Strengthening the mind-body-connection. Sports often require focus, concentration, and mindfulness. This can promote a stronger mind-body connection, leading to improved mental clarity and emotional stability.
Better sleep: Regular exercise can also improve the quality of sleep, which is an important pillar of your mental health.
How does sport affect your psyche?
We are all aware that sport has a positive effect on our bodies. It's not for nothing that doctors recommend physical exercise to prevent diseases and other physical ailments. But how does physical activity affect our psyche? Even scientists cannot yet answer this question with consensus.
It is clear that exercise leads to the release of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. These are transmitters that release feelings of happiness, increase the willingness to perform and create a feeling of reward. Sport therefore lifts our mood, improves mental performance and reduces our perception of pain.
Anyone who has ever sunk contentedly onto the mat after a hard workout or felt a surge of endorphins while running can confirm this. These endorphins interact with receptors in the brain to reduce the perception of pain and trigger positive feelings. This can help us to feel more happy and experience reduced stress and anxiety. Sports also promotes the growth of new brain cells, specifically in areas associated with memory and cognitive function.
What does sports do to your body?
It is certain that sport has a positive effect on our brain because it is better supplied with blood through sport and releases opioids and endorphins. Happy hormones like dopamine and serotonin help to reduce stress and anxiety and can also improve your mood. But not only your mood is improved, but also your performance. Because sport helps your brain to regenerate regularly and it can therefore absorb more information.
Brain researchers even go so far as to say that regular exercise has a lasting effect on the body's hormone levels. Sustained exercise, for example, is said to help dopamine to be broken down more slowly, which leads to you feeling a long-lasting good mood. But it's important to realize that physical activity not only actively improves mood and mental health, but is also used as a preventative and therapeutic measure.
Sport and exercise as therapy
Currently, sports and any form of physical exercise are often used to support the treatment of mental illnesses such as depressive episodes, panic, anxiety, burnout or even schizophrenia. Studies from around the world show that regular exercise – as little as one to two hours a week – is a clear improvement for mental health.
A study from Australia showed that weekly physical activity prevents depressive symptoms. In addition, another study showed how endurance exercise helps in dealing with stress and can prevent burnout and bad mood. It is precisely these active and preventive results of physical exercise that are the reason why doctors and therapists throughout Germany offer and recommend sport as a therapy-supporting measure.
What is important here is not only that sport is done and what kind of sport is done, but also the regularity. It is recommended to do sports at least 3 times a week for at least 30 minutes. It helps to mark active sport units for the coming week in the calendar, this motivates and also works against a lack of drive. Furthermore, it can also be helpful to do sports with friends, because then it is not only more fun, but you can also motivate each other.
Important: Despite the positive effect of sports activity on our psychological wellbeing, exercise is not considered a stand-alone alternative to psychotherapy.
What can be negative effects of sports on our mental health?
Sport can also have a negative effect on the psyche. This is often the case in professional sports, where there is high pressure to succeed and lots of ambition. However, too much sport can also trigger stress in amateur athletes if it is practiced too intensively and frequently.
For both amateur and professional athletes, self-esteem can quickly become tied to athletic success. Extreme physical and mental stress can also lead to sleep disorders, susceptibility to infections, frequent injuries, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders, depression and addiction.
What kind of sport is good for our mental health?
The more sport we practice, the more "positive" hormones are released - for example, the concentration of dopamine and serotonin in the body can increase permanently with regular training, which in turn leads to a sustained increase in happiness and satisfaction. In general, any kind of exercise can help. However, some types of sport have proven to have a particularly positive effect on the psyche:
Running: During, but also after running, the "feel-good hormones" serotonin and norepinephrine are usually released. Thus, a running session can become a real "mood booster".
Hiking (in nature): studies have shown that long walks in nature can reduce feelings of anxiety and improve memory performance. In addition, time spent in nature has a relaxing effect on many people.
Yoga: In addition to promoting flexibility and strengthening muscles, yoga also has positive effects on our overall well-being. Various studies show that yoga can contribute to a significant reduction in stress and anxiety symptoms. Integrated breathing exercises can also interrupt and calm spiraling thoughts.
3 positive effects of sports on our mental well-being
Sport, like many other things, serves well as a distraction. Here you can take time to forget your worries and problems and fully concentrate on yourself and this moment. Through the intense interaction with others, team sports are a particularly good distraction.
Continuous exercise also strengthens our self-esteem. On the one hand, because we feel strong every time we manage to overcome our inner weakness and get moving. On the other hand, sport also makes us feel good physically, and we radiate this feeling both internally and externally.
Your performance is also supported and promoted by sports and exercise. Sports sessions serve as a break for you and your brain and give you the opportunity to completely switch off and think about other things. Afterwards it is often easier to think clearly and focus thoughts again. Especially when you feel stressed and exhausted, it is advantageous to take a short break from exercise.
Ideas to motivate yourself for more sports
A first step to motivating yourself for sports can be to find the sport(s) that you personally enjoy the most. Simple trial and error help here. Whether alone, in a group, in a sports club, or at home - everyone can find the type of sport that suits their personal wishes and preferences.
Sport with friends
For many, it can be helpful to do sports with friends, because it is not only more fun, but you can also motivate each other. In addition, the hurdle of canceling the sports session with friends or acquaintances is usually greater than letting the planned sports session pass by alone within your own four walls.
Freeletics is a sports program that relies only on your own body weight. That means you don't need any equipment and can do all the training at home or right outside your door. You can easily sign up for the app for three, six, or twelve months and start working out right away.
FRAEND is a new sports platform that allows you to learn from professional coaches in personal video calls. Here you can either register as a professional and offer courses for a price of your choice or take courses yourself. So you can easily do yoga from home or get tips and tricks for jogging from top marathon runners.
Tips for incorporating sports into your mental health routine
Here are 4 practical tips how you can incorporate sports into you mental health routine:
- Choose the right sport: There are so many different kinds of sports. Find an activity you enjoy. Maybe you want to do sports in a team like football, maybe you want to focus on getting out into nature by doing hikes or you like to find an activity that grounds you like yoga.
- Create a routine: Make exercise a consistent part of your routine. Pick a time every day or every week to include sports into your everyday life. If this sounds like a lot to you, you can start small by e.g. scheduling short 20min blocks.
- Find a support system: Join a sports club, fitness class, community group or find a workput buddy. Social interaction and support can help you to create and stick to a routine.
- Listen to your body: Pay attention to your body's signals. On some days you might be ready to go all in, on others you might need to take it more easy. Rest when you need it.