Spring is now here and summer is fast approaching. With the longer days it is an excellent time to get outdoors and get active which, in turn, has a positive impact on your mental health and well-being. Mental health is everyone’s ability to think, feel, and act in way that enhance our ability to get joy from life and deal with challenges and stresses. Research has proven the direct link between physical and mental health and suggested many of our direct day-to-day moods are dependent on brain chemistry. Therefore, an imbalance in brain chemicals can leave us feeling sad or worried. According to the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women (CAAW) there are many challenges that can negatively affect the mental health of girls and young women in particular. In a study done in 2010, approximately one in three girls in grade six reported higher levels of symptoms of depression, loneliness, negative self-esteem and body image and difficulty sleeping and this increased to 1 in 2 girls by grade 10. However, only 4 percent of girls compared to 9 percent of boys achieved recommended daily levels of physical activity.
Alberta Health Services suggests that one significant way to change our brain chemistry is through exercise because it stimulates the neurotransmitter, non-epinephrine in the brain which increases our serotonin levels. This increases our ability to cope with stress and releases “feel good chemicals” in our brain. Overall, physical activity can improve female’s mood and sleeping, increase positive self-esteem and helps to decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression. Exercise can also lead to building positive connections in the community and new friendships, a sense of accomplishment and increase self-esteem when goals are set and achieved. It is also important as women that we role model increased physical activity for the generations of young women to come and have conversations with young girls about the positive connection between themselves and their bodies. Alberta Health Services recommends thirty to sixty minutes of moderate to rigorous exercise five or more days of the week to significantly increase personal well-being and decrease symptoms of depression.
Make a plan and keep track of your fitness goals. As people, we are way more committed to achieving our goals when we include more details and specifics such as the days, times and specific activities we are going to complete. Make fitness dates with a friend, spouse or as a family. Having a partner to work out with also helps hold us accountable for our actions. Talk to a health care professional regarding physical activity and your mental health, they may be able to offer further insight into overall health benefits. Some ideas include walking, jogging and running. Go for a swim, ride your bike, join yoga, Pilates or cycling class. Many women often feel self-conscious about body-image or skill level, and then look into the many great opportunities for female only members such as the Women’s Soccer League, mom’s running club or female only gyms. As women we are in this together and can be positive role models for getting the younger generation of teen girls involved in physical activity building and maintaining positive mental health and self-esteem.