The correlations between physical activity and mental health

Midwife Kairi Kivaste shares her thoughts with us.

Most of us have probably heard something about the connection between physical activity and mental health. Physical exertion and discomfort have been a natural part of human life throughout history. Living in a welfare society, it’s difficult to imagine the environment to which Homo sapiens evolved. Walking long distances to find food and shelter, physical exertion in daily tasks, coping with various weather conditions, diseases, and injuries—faced with all this, one might think the modern human would collapse and give up. Yet, our bodies have evolved an amazing hormonal system that has enabled our species to survive.

Pain, stress, and physical exertion trigger a coping mechanism in the brain that releases endorphins. These are chemical substances that act as natural painkillers, reduce stress, and help create an overall sense of well-being. This is why after exercise, a cold shower, or a hot sauna, the body feels particularly relaxed and the mood is lifted. Thanks to this mechanism, we are able to push through difficulties and keep moving forward.

The more comfortable life becomes, the less natural stress and exertion our bodies experience. As a society, we have reached a point where people can become pathologically overweight while sitting comfortably in an armchair at home, deeply depressed at the same time. One reason behind the explosive surge in mental health issues is, among other factors, excessive comfort.

My recommendation is to do something each day that pushes beyond initial discomfort. Whether it’s taking a cold shower in the morning or going for an afternoon walk in the autumn rain, take that uncomfortable step to later feel satisfaction and happiness.

More and more scientific studies are focusing on the importance of natural environments in recovering from stressful situations and improving memory and attention resources in today’s urbanized world. While the urban environment may function smoothly in many respects like a well-oiled machine, scientists agree that asphalt, glass, and concrete have physically and mentally destructive effects on biodiversity. Unfortunately, humans are also part of biodiversity. While we may feel comfortable in certain aspects of city life, true well-being requires regular exposure to and movement in natural environments.

In summary, physical activity, especially movement in nature, creates a true sense of well-being. It restores our mental energy, reduces stress, stabilizes mood, improves memory and sleep quality, alleviates pain, and motivates us to keep going. I wish you all joy in staying active!

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