Why physical activity needs to be part of the mental health conversation

Study after study has shown what we all instinctively know—regular physical activity is essential for good mental health.

Yet very few Canadians get enough. Just 9% of kids. Only 20% of adults. That leaves a lot of people missing out on the mental health benefits of activity.

When you exercise, your body releases endorphins, chemicals that reduce feelings of pain and increase feelings of pleasure, literally boosting your mood. At the same time, it also reduces the amount of stress hormones, like cortisol, floating around in your body.

That’s why on Bell Let’s Talk Day, ParticipACTION believes physical activity should be part of the conversation.

MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE WITH PHYSICAL ACTIVITY AND DEPRESSION

Six years ago I went through a long and severe depression. I felt so hopeless that I struggled to get out of bed. I gained weight, avoided friends, and stayed indoors. It was a dark time that I rarely talk about. 

But that’s what Let’s Talk Day is all about. Talking about the things that we’re usually too afraid to talk about. Rather than focusing on the negative, however, I want to talk about gardening. The thing that turned my life around.

My psychiatrist had told me to get outside more, so I decided to volunteer at a nearby community garden. I had never gardened before, but it was convenient to get to and the people were kind.

It wasn’t long before I was hooked. Watering and planting, pruning and weeding, I did every task you can think of. Wheelbarrowed dirt, mulch, and cuttings. Edged new floor beds. Planted rows of veggies.

Soon I found a job at a local gardening centre and started gardening for neighbours on weekends. I found a passion I would’ve never guessed I had.

But the most amazing part was the change in my mental health. I started sleeping better at night and getting out of bed more quickly in the morning. I stopped avoiding people and started losing weight. The paralyzing hopelessness I thought might never go away, began to fade.

I didn’t get better overnight, but day by day, I climbed out of my depression, regained my self-esteem, and got my life back.

CONNECTING THE DOTS

I didn’t really connect the dots at the time, but looking back, it’s not hard to see why gardening was such an effective remedy. I was getting exercise every day. I was outside in nature, soaking in the sun, and breathing fresh air. In short, I was doing what I should have been doing all along—leading an active life.

I’m grateful every day for how the whole thing worked out. For my psychiatrist telling me to get outside and get moving. For the wonderful opportunity, my community provided.

I wish more Canadians would hear that same advice and be given that same opportunity.

Whether it’s depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or otherwise, a prescription for a daily dose of physical activity could help a lot of people. It has the power to change lives and that’s something that we need to talk about.

Thanks to initiatives like Bell Let’s Talk Day, we’re talking about mental health more every day. More people are breaking the silence. We’re starting to eliminate the stigma.

But we must also start talking about how mental health can be improved, why physical activity is essential, and how current levels of inactivity are contributing to poor mental health outcomes.

Bell Let’s Talk Day is helping Canadians take a huge first step. Now we need to encourage everyone to take 10,000 more.