There is an increasingly large body of evidence to suggest that regular physical activity is good for mental health and emotional well-being.
This is all well and good for people who enjoy sports, running, swimming, or other forms of exercise, but what about those who don’t enjoy it? Surely forcing yourself to exercise when you really don’t want to does more harm than good?
Colorado scientists recently studied lab rats to determine the psychological effects of forced exercise. The rats were split into three groups:
- sedentary (no exercise wheel in cage)
- choice (wheel in cage)
- forced (motorized wheel which rotated to a predetermined schedule).
The first group couldn’t exercise even if they wanted to. The second group could exercise if they chose to and the third group were forced to exercise at certain times. The mechanized wheel was programmed to mimic a pattern of activity the average rat might undertake if it had the choice.
After six weeks, the rats were exposed to a lab stressor to test their levels of anxiety. The researchers found that those rats in the choice or forced groups were better protected against stress than those in the sedentary group, suggesting that it makes no difference whether exercise is voluntary or forced: it still has psychological benefits.
Benjamin Greenwood, an assistant research professor at the University of Colorado, said: “The implications are that humans who perceive exercise as being forced – perhaps including those who feel like they have to exercise for health reasons – are maybe still going to get the benefits in terms of reducing anxiety and depression.”
The findings were published in the European Journal of Neuroscience.
With mental health problems on the rise in the UK, it is now more important than ever to incorporate exercise into your daily routine – whether you feel like it or not. When we leave school and no longer have to partake in compulsory PE lessons, we develop the mindset that exercise is something we do when we feel like doing it. Making a conscious effort to make physical activity as natural a part of your life as breakfast, lunch and dinner could benefit your mental health in the long run.
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