UTHealth Harris County Psychiatric Center
Physical Fitness and Mental Health
As stated before, physical fitness is not a measure of athletic ability or physical beauty. Rather, it is defined by a list of components that measure one's overall ability to perform normal physical activity. These include:
- Cardio-respiratory and muscular stamina
- Percent of body fat
- Exercise - above-normal physical activity - is the most common method of improving fitness levels.
Reaching and maintaining optimal performance levels for your unique body through regular exercise is the key to physical fitness. You should consult your physician before beginning any exercise program.
The most effective exercise programs include sustained rigorous activity for 30 minutes at least three times per week. Choose from a list of activities walking, running, biking, tennis, swimming, calisthenics, dancing, and many others. For more structured exercise, you may join a health club.
Also, try supplementing your regular exercise with other opportunities for physical activity, like climbing stairs instead of taking the elevator, or walking instead of taking the bus.
Exercise does far more than get you in shape. It improves your life. On the physiological side, exercise can:
- strengthen your heart; as your heart becomes stronger, it becomes more efficient.
- regulate cholesterol; proper cholesterol levels improve your arteries.
- reduce blood pressure; high blood pressure is associated with cardiovascular disease and stroke.
- increase metabolism; exercise can help control body weight.
- improve lung capacity; exercise can help expand your lungs and improve your body's ability to use the extra oxygen.
- increase your life expectancy; naturally, as the above improvements take place, you'll become healthier.
Many people begin exercising because they feel bad. Similarly, many people continue exercising because they feel good. On the psychological side, exercise can:
- relieve emotional stress and anxieties; exercise can help reduce the biochemicals released in the body during normal times of stress.
- relieve depression; exercise causes the body to produce endorphins, chemicals that cause a relaxed, peaceful state of mind.
- increase energy; regular exercise can make you feel more energetic and alert.
- increase self-esteem; the improved physical and psychological state can make people feel good about themselves, how they look and feel, and what they have accomplished through exercise.