Does Exercise Affect Mental Health – Nigeria?

Keyword: Exercise, weight gain, mental health, physical activity, aerobic exercise, mood disorders, psychotic disorders, Nigeria.


Does exercise affect mental health – Nigeria? How does mental illness affect weight gain? Does exercise impact the brain and mental health? What are the effective exercises?

Maintaining a good mental health, requires regular exercises, and exercise is one of the essential treatments for mental health conditions that can lead to a positive mental health. But unfortunately, many people with mental health conditions, find exercising difficult.

In Nigeria, many of its citizens are physically inactive, especially those in the urban centers. Being physically inactive is described as not being able to engage in 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week. This aerobic exercise for adults 18 to 64 years of age should be the minimum and must be moderately intensive. This is the World Health recommendation for physical inactivity.

But some people would describe physical activity in terms of body movements and energy expended. So they will regard energy expended while working, playing, household chores exercise and sports as physical activities. Even with this, many Nigerians still lack behind in physical activity.

Also, the stable food in Nigeria is made up of mainly carbohydrate. These include cassava fufu, garri, yam, rice, etc.

How does mental illness affect weight?

Those with mental health conditions such as depression, schizophrenia, anxiety, etc. live sedentary life styles. This means that they tend to stay in one place and are not motivated to exercise, making their conditions worse. They also have poor eating habits, preferring sweet and junk food, which directly affects their weight. And they make use of food as a coping mechanism or to self medicate their illnesses.

Mood disorders:

The relationship between depression and obesity is a two way traffic. Depression can predispose to obesity and obesity can be a risk factor for depression. There is also a relationship between anxiety disorders and obesity. Also obese persons are at risk of suffering from panic disorder.

Those suffering from bipolar disorders are at risk of overeating during depressive disorders. They are also at risk of sedentary life style during the depressive pole.

Psychotic disorders:

Those suffering from schizophrenia eat more of carbohydrate foods. They also have sedentary life style. With the combination of these two, there is a likelihood of the predisposition to being overweight or obese. This weight gain is more at the early stage of the illness.

Other mental health issues:

Those who are greatly obese are at great risk of having antisocial and borderline personality disorders. And of course, people suffering from eating disorders may suffer from obesity.

Adults living with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are at high risk of being obese. In ADHD, the neurotransmitters of dopamine and serotonin are implicated i.e. they are low. Then the levels of these neurotransmitters rise when carbohydrates are consumed. So it could mean that those with ADHD eat carbohydrate a lot to help treat their condition. And this will predispose to obesity.

Effects of medications:

Most medications used to treat mental illness have weight gain as their side effects. The worse hits are the new generation medications.

How exercise impacts the brain and mental health.        

Those suffering from mental health conditions have issues with chemicals in their brains, either being too high or too low. These chemicals include cortisol, dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, gamma aminobutyric acid, etc.

They also have problems with the size of their brains. Certain parts of their brain involved in emotions and behaviors, are most of the time, smaller in size. This reduction in size occurs only in those with mental health conditions.  And this can be due to a whole lot of brain issues such as inflammatory processes that lead to death and loss of brain cells.

Does exercise affect mental health – Nigeria? Exercise helps in aiding the making of new brain cells, and reducing inflammatory processes. It also helps in improving connectivity between the brain cells. This improved connectivity enables the brain can grow back to its normal size and function better. This is true in all cultures including Nigeria.

Exercise helps in stabilizing the chemicals in the brain, making sure that they are not too high or too low. And once the chemicals in the brain are stabilized, behavior improves.

With exercise, weight management becomes possible. And with weight management, certain physical health conditions that can predispose to mental illness are prevented. It improves sleep, improves concentration and memory, making remembering easy.

Exercise does all these by improving blood and oxygen, as well as nutrient supplies to the brain.

The effects of exercise on mental health:

Exercise reduces the probability of anxiety disorder presenting into panic disorder. So physical exercise can prevent panic attacks from happening. It improves self esteem and mood.  So by these means, exercise can prevent and treat mental health conditions, and thus, improve self esteem.

Exercise helps to improve the overall quality of life. Quality of life is actually how well one lives. It comprises of how healthy and comfortable the person is, how he/she can participate in life and enjoy it.

Other effects from exercise:

These include stress relief, mental alertness, etc. For those who have mental illness and low libido, exercise improves the libido.

Types of exercises.    

Aerobic exercise – Brisk walking:

The needed exercises need not be done in gyms, nor do they requires set out hours in the day. They include simple exercises such as, 15 to 20 minutes of brisk walking daily for those who are young. And for those who are elderly, it requires just 3 times a week of brisk walking.

Brisk walking simply means taking 100 steps in a minute. To do this, start by taking few steps per minute. Then move up the number of steps gradually to 100 steps per minute, over days.

Other aerobic exercises:

Other exercises include running, swimming, dancing, bicycle riding, jogging, etc. These exercises can be done at a convenient time for the person, although it is much better in the mornings and early afternoon hours, so that it does not disrupt the night sleep.  

Aerobic exercises with music:

For some people, they prefer doing their aerobic exercises combined with music. It is a well documented fact that music can be a calming agent for most mental health issues. Music improve mental health, increases self esteem and confidence.

When exercise is combined with music, researches have found some conflicting results. Majority of researchers have documented positive effect that is greater than when exercising without music. Few researchers have not documented any difference when music is added and when not added.

For the majority of researches done, they found out that music elicited several benefits when combined with exercise and sports. When music is played before the exercise begins, it acts as a stimulant or relaxant. When music is paired with the exercise, the music helps to distract the person from unpleasant effects of the exercise. Music makes the person feel less tired while exercising.

Exercising and physical health conditions:

If one has other medical conditions together with a mental health condition, there is to consult one’s doctor.  The doctor will determine the safe exercises one can engage in. It is also important that one adheres to prescribed medications.

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