Mental Health Awareness Month

It’s not just about the body, it’s about the mind too.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. It’s critical that our society becomes more educated about the causes, symptoms and treatment of mental health disorders. We’ve come a long way but there is still a long way to go. Many people continue to think mental health issues are a choice and something you can simply decide not to have. How could you be sad when you have xy and z?  It’s far more complicated than that. Treatment is different for everyone but fitness can play a big role in helping someone who suffers from mental health issues.

Mental Health Awareness Month is a cause dear to my heart. I have had bouts of depression and anxiety that, if I’m honest, probably started back in my high school days or earlier. I’m not the only one in my family who has struggled with mental health issues and it’s been life changing to see the way mental health awareness has changed in my lifetime. We’ve gone from holding secrets of mental illness to sharing with our family and friends. I don’t hesitate to share that I see a therapist from time to time or that I’ve had these struggles. My hope is that by me sharing this, other people will feel comfortable sharing or getting help.

Fitness (and therapy) has always helped me get out of the hard times so it was imperative to me that I create a space where people who might be struggling can come in and feel comfortable. I wanted to take the pressure to be perfect or look a certain way out of the equation. Opening New Trail was a dream for me and when people ask me why, I tend to shy away from the big picture reason because it almost sounds cliché. The reason I opened New Trail is I have a hope and vision that we can help shift the mindset about working out from fitness for vanity to fitness for the mind and general health. Is a fit body a great bonus for working out? Absolutely, but my hope is the driving force behind working out is how it makes us feel.

Dr Shawna Charles, from Walden University, compiled this list of mental health benefits from fitness:

1)      Help for depression and anxiety
Exercise is a scientifically proven mood booster, decreasing symptoms of both depression and anxiety. Physical activity kicks up endorphin levels, the body’s famous “feel good” chemical produced by the brain and spinal cord that produces feelings of happiness and euphoria. 

2)      Decreased stress
Another mental benefit of exercise is reduced stress levels—something that can make us all happier. Increasing your heart rate can actually reverse stress-induced brain damage by stimulating the production of neurohormones like norepinephrine, which not only improve cognition and mood but improve thinking clouded by stressful events.

3)      Increased self-esteem and self-confidence
All physical achievements of exercise can add up to a whopping boost of self-esteem—and the confidence that comes with it.

4)      Better sleep
Physical activity increases body temperature, which can have calming effects on the mind, leading to less sheep counting and more shuteye. Exercise also helps regulate your circadian rhythm, our bodies’ built-in alarm clock that controls when we feel tired and when we feel alert.

5)      Brain boost
From building intelligence to strengthening memory, exercise boosts brainpower in a number of ways. Studies on mice and humans indicate that cardiovascular exercise creates new brain cells—a process called neurogenesis—and improve overall brain performance. It also prevents cognitive decline and memory loss by strengthening the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory and learning.

If you are struggling, make a step toward getting help. Know that you’re not alone. There are endless pressures today and the drive to be perfect and not need help is a strong force. The weight of dealing with any mental illness is heavy and you may not even realize how heavy it is until you get help. It will get better. The sense of relief that comes with getting help or sharing what you’re going through will be worth it.


Read more about Dr. Charles’s list here:


Elizabeth KampComment