All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy

This English proverb highlights the importance of almost any activity other than work but in this article, I would like you to just focus on the importance of physical activity for the human body. There have been innumerable such instances in which exercise and physical activity, be it just a brisk walk or an impromptu dance session, have lifted my spirits and made my day.  This is because physical activity and movement are extremely crucial for our well-being..

Humans, since the very beginning of their existence, were hunters and gatherers who needed to hunt, run, swim, and travel long and challenging distances for food, to ensure the survival of their tribe, and protect themselves from beings that were higher up in the food chain. Initially, we were an extremely active species but as we evolved, we developed societies and adopted a more sedentary lifestyle. This has now taken over our routines to such an extent that today we are developing dangerous lifestyle diseases like obesity, hypertension, diabetes. In Fact a sedentary lifestyle also gives rise to many  mental health issues as well. Since we no longer have to hunt or walk to survive, we need to exercise, as that’s exactly what we have been genetically trained to do.

Physical activity has taken many forms in the 21st century and these can be divided into three major categories:-

  • Everyday physical activity:-

This often involves occupational activities (tasks undertaken to earn money) like going to work, other physical activities in one’s place of work,etc, community participation in events like marathons, group cycling expeditions, etc., household chores, and activities undertaken for transportation (cycling, running, and walking).  Daily chores like walking to the bus stop, doing laundry, climbing up a flight of stairs, cleaning up one’s workspace in my opinion, are the best forms of physical activity. One does not have to take out time for such activities and they easily fit into our daily routine.

  • Exercise:-

Exercise is a conscious and purposeful physical activity that one undertakes either to improve their health, lifestyle, flexibility or to increase one’s strength. Such activities often involve running, jogging, cycling, yoga, etc.

  • Sports:-

These are structured and competitive physical activities that can either be played individually or as a team. Sports are an excellent way of taking care of one’s overall well-being while also fulfilling one’s innate human need for social interaction.  It is what makes exercising fun and more meaningful in the short run. Even though we can afford to forget the long-term goal of exercising ie. staying fit, we can’t afford to ignore the short-term goal of it ie. winning a match, which helps us to efficiently work towards achieving the long-term goal of improved health.

Sports can be of high intensity like swimming, football, squash, etc as well as low intensity like billiards, table tennis, etc.

While exercise benefits the physical body in numerous ways it also has an extremely positive impact on brain function, mental health, and general wellbeing. It leads to the development of a sharper memory, stronger resilience, higher self-esteem, confidence, and extends one’s lifespan. Physical activity including yoga, aerobic exercise, resistance training, and Tai Chi is known to influence the mental health of humans on a microscopic as well as a larger level. While aerobic exercise seems to be the most helpful for cognitive dysfunction as well as depression, it has also proved to be extremely useful for managing other mental health issues as well.  

 The relationship between physical activity and sound mental health is undeniably strong because of the endorphins that are released when we exercise. These endorphins are in fact, what brings about the feel-good factor that one experiences with regular exercise. I feel that exercise and mental well-being are interrelated to such an extent the lack of one severely affects the other. Exercise and sports, coupled with meditation are also great for people suffering from insomnia and anxiety. Overthinking can best be described by the proverb, “An empty mind is a devil’s workshop” and one of the most effective ways to avoid overthinking is to exercise and keep one’s mind preoccupied. 

From the prevention of lifestyle disorders like heart attacks, strokes, development of dementia, etc to the prevention  and treatment of mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, insomnia, etc; exercising will prove to be one of the best decisions you can make for yourself and your mental health in the busy world of the 21st century.

-Shruti Reddy

FY B.Sc.

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