Exercise and Mental Health: A Brief Introduction to the Impact of Exercise Has On Our Minds

Exercise and Mental Health: A Brief Introduction to the Impact of Exercise Has On Our Minds
By Sabaahath Latifi

When we hear terms such as: exercise, gym, or workout, our minds tend to automatically think “thin, size 0, flat tummies, two hours at the gym, etc…” We stress out about how much weight we need to lose to “look good”, which paradoxically enough, could actually lead to an increase in unhealthy behaviors such as avoiding exercise and overeating. When did physical activity become all about our outer self-image?

The way we look can definitely impact the way we feel. When we believe we look “good” our mood is uplifted and we feel confident and happy. But there are so many more benefits of physical activity that seem to have lost value overtime. It is important to remember, that in our fast paced and hectic lives, exercise can be a powerful tool to protect BOTH our physical and mental health.

There is a wealth of research that shows the connection between exercise/increased physical activity, and positive mental health. Several studies have been conducted in which exercise was a component of treatment for depression. These studies yielded positive results; while exercise was not the sole cure for depression, it did help in alleviating depressive symptoms and increasing motivation.

The science behind it:

To keep it very simple: Exercise releases endorphins. This chemical decreases the perception pain, increases positive emotions such as happiness, and produces a “euphoric” feeling which leads to increased motivation and energy.

A Prophetic tradition in Islam reports that:
“No one will be allowed to move from his position on the Day of Judgement until he has been asked how he spent his life, how he used his knowledge, how he earnt and spent his money and in what pursuits he used his health”
Related in Tirmidhi

The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) encouraged a healthy lifestyle as well. A few popular activities mentioned in the stories from the time of our prophet (SAW) are: swimming, archery, and horseback riding.

These are just a couple of examples that highlight the importance of your overall health, both mental and physical. As Muslims, we believe that our bodies have a right over us. It is in fact an trust (amanah) from Allah. We are responsible to keep ourselves healthy, both physically and emotionally. In fact, these hadiths mention that we are even accountable to Allah for what we do with our health!

What is considered exercise?
The following activities are just a few examples:
– Walking
– Running/jogging
– Any sport
– House cleaning (especially vacuuming and sweeping)
– Bike riding
– Exercise machines (going to the gym, etc…)
– What are some you can think of that are fun, creative, and doable for you?

Basic tips:
– Make exercise a family or group activity: take a buddy with you for your walks or to the gym. Or make it a family activity that you can do with your spouse/kids/siblings, etc…
– Choose an activity you enjoy and that is challenging: Exercise does not have to be tedious! You can be creative with it and make it enjoyable for you.
– Choose something that fits your schedule: Exercise does not have to be time consuming. 20-30 minutes a day can be sufficient.
– Be realistic: listen to your body, go at your pace, and come up a with a plan that can realistically become a daily routine for you.
– Take small steps and increase activity with time. For some people, jumping, head first, into exercise can be detrimental. It can also decrease motivation about working out. Take it slow and increase your activity with time to give your mind, body, and daily schedules the necessary time to adjust.