Kulraj Singh: Exercise will improve your mental health

A women in winter running gear, bending down to tie her shoelace.

Headshot of Kulraj Singh  Kulraj Singh

Kulraj Singh (Physiotherapy, 2011) is the founder of Tavistock Clinic in Crawley, West Sussex, which offers physiotherapy services for muscle and joint injuries.

Most of us consider our physical health to be very important to us. We talk about wanting to lose the extra weight we’ve gained over the years, wanting to exercise more and eat better. And yet many of us aren’t happy with our current exercise and health habits. A recent report published by the European Commission found that almost half of Europeans never exercise or play sport. There is a clear disparity between our aspirations and intentions and reality.

Pie chart showing results of survey by the European Commission. How often do you exercise or play sport? Never: 46%, Seldom 14%, With some regularity 33%, Regularly 7%

The truth is, we as individuals don’t do things unless they are a priority to us. In our busy lives, it can be difficult to find the time for keeping fit. But finding that time might be beneficial for more than just our physical fitness. It can also have a profound effect on our mental well-being. This is part of the reason I am so passionate about encouraging people to make exercise a part of their regular routine. At Tavistock Clinic we have found that the more a patient realises how valuable and impactful exercise is, the more likely they are to engage in it more regularly.

Humans have evolved to exercise regularly at moderate intensity and our bodies respond when we do. Exercise acts as a medicine for our brain, or rather, the brain is its own pharmacy and exercise helps it to work. Specifically, when we exercise we release three substances that physiologically boost our wellbeing.

Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) is a protein that has been described as a ‘fertiliser’ for the brain’s neurons (brain nerve cells). When we exercise, our bodies know they are being put under stress. In the hope of alleviating the stress, they release BDNF. This has been shown to have a positive effect on multiple mental processes including:

  • Reasoning
  • Goal direction
  • Problem-solving
  • Anticipation of consequences
  • Imagination
  • Future planning

Exercise also provokes the release of endorphins, hormones that bind to opioid receptors in the brain making you feel happier, and serotonin, a chemical that is involved in many physiological processes and also helps regulate mood.

These protein and hormonal changes occur at a chemical level in the body. Often improving our mental wellbeing is considered in terms of mental processes only, but these physiological effects mean exercising regularly can also have a profound effect. Along with the happiness exercise brings, it also has been shown to:

  • Reduce anxiety
  • Boost immunity
  • Improve body image
  • Improve sleep
  • Improve virility
  • Decrease premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
  • Decrease risk of Alzheimers

The most important thing to know is that the word ‘exercise’ does not just mean going to the gym. It means any activity whatsoever that elevates the heart rate and gets you sweating. Think outside the box, and have fun with it. The easiest exercise regimen to stick to is the one you enjoy the most.

So, did you have any sports you loved playing whilst at King’s? Do you love to dance? How about fitness classes, yoga, or cycling?

Plan your programme out and then execute. Your body, and your mind, will both thank you for it.

If you would like to share your story, why not get in touch? Email forever@kcl.ac.uk with a short bio and a summary of the story you would like to tell.


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