Mental health is central to why we need to eat well and be physically active. We know that many mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and related symptomatology are mitigated by diet and exercise. The stronger one’s markers of mental health are, the better their overall health rates on the sickness-wellness-fitness continuum.
However, there are no single markers for mental health that allow us to measure it like other health markers such as blood pressure and body composition. So how do we evaluate, and therefore measure changes in mental health?
Mental health can be assessed by psychiatrists and psychologists, but they often provide subjective reports. To obtain more objective (measurable) data, self-report questionnaires are used. These provide ratings of stress, anxiety and depression, and they score your perceptions of your mental and physical wellbeing. That means such questionnaires provide insight into how you feel about your mental wellbeing, not about how a doctor sees it.
There is a great body of research evaluating changes in the results of such self-report questionnaires in people participating in structured and guided exercise programs as part of their therapy and rehabilitation. The results are unequivocal. Along with other treatment modalities such as occupational therapy and psychotherapy, exercise contributes significantly to improvements in perceptions of both mental and physical wellbeing.
Moreover, improvements in those perceptions occurred concomitant to improvements in markers of fitness.
There’s a strong relation between not just engaging in an exercise program, but in tracking and observing the results of an exercise program, and improvements in mental health.
To simplify that further, if you exercise and measure the results of that exercise program, you are improving your mental health.
By turning up to your sessions every week and caring about your nutrition you’re already taking care of yourself a great deal. But always remember that while all your health and fitness markers might be good, your mental health is important too. Pay attention to your mood, and take time out for your mind.