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What does the gym do for you mentally? How can it affect your mental health?

Well, the good news is: it’s nearly all positive.

Let’s get the science bit done first:

According to the National Institute for Health in the US, exercise “improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function”.

But what does all that mean in real situations?

Exercise, done properly, is the pursuit of improvement. It doesn’t matter how fast, or how impressive, that achievement is – our brains are wired to enjoy achievement and to notice when we have improved at something.

If you’re improving in the gym, it has a positive impact on how you view yourself, which in turn positively affects how you feel in situations unrelated the the gym/running route/swimming pool.

Let’s not ignore the very real endorphin hit that’s released from exercise, and the adrenaline of power/impact sports. These are natural chemicals that have a huge impact on mental health.

Having a goal helps to “close out” noise from the outside world. We hear time and time again people saying that the gym helps them chill out, forget about the outside world and focus on the lifting. Part of this is that training to any decent level involves concentrating on what you’re doing – and for a lot of people, having less time to think means less time to worry.

Being physically tired, as well as mentally tired, at the end of the day helps sleep too – and we all know that missing sleep is hugely negative for mental health. Your body needs physical tiredness as well as mental tiredness to be able to sleep and shut down properly – how many times have you had a stressful day, been exhausted, yet done no exercise? Did you fall asleep that night easily, or were you wide awake despite the mental fatigue?

It’s rare that training in the gym, or exercise in general has a negative effect on mental health. That said, it’s worth being aware of taking anything to extremes – issues like eating disorders and body dysmorphia are disturbingly common. Like with anything, being aware of the starting point of any mental issue is key to addressing it.

How can you ensure the upside, and minimise the downside?

Well, if you’re new to training and the gym, getting expert help from real-life, experienced Personal Trainers is so important. Minimising risk of injury, maximising returns, and keeping you away from the worst of the gym culture/industry is a good PTs job. If you’re nervous about starting – get a guide!

Don’t miss out on the benefits to your mental health from training properly, and getting involved with a supportive, professional environment. As a cheap, effective way to improve your life, a gym membership is unrivalled.

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