Being successful in a sport or even in general health and wellbeing requires much more than just showing up to a few training sessions. It requires a program, a method and a path to follow. The science behind fitness and endurance training has developed at an accelerated rate over recent years, but little is mentioned around the helpful effects that a properly developed program can have on the mental wellbeing of a person. This is where the connection between training and the chemical and biological balance in the brain becomes important, as there are ways to control certain elements of mental health by following a properly organised plan. This includes everything from a gym training program for beginners to a high performance sports program for elite athletes.
Our body has a system that controls certain body processes without us consciously willing it to do so. This process is controlled by the autonomous nervous system, and it is in charge of bodily functions such as the metabolism, blood pressure, body temperature, heartbeat and fluid balance, among others. When training or exercising, these processes activate in a way that regulate the body’s behaviour. Pushing hard will increase the heart rate, raise the body temperature, accelerate the fluid response, while an easy recovery period will do the exact opposite.
Our normal daytime routine is filled with moments that can stress us out or put us in alert mode, activating the body processes mentioned above. Examples of these situations can be work or school demands like a report that needs to be completed or normal everyday situations like making sure the kids get to school on time. These actions tend to put us into alert mode, keeping the autonomous system active. We, as humans, can control some aspects of our lives, such as completing a report, preparing the kids lunches, finishing work on time. However, there are other elements that, as humans, we cannot fully control. These include reactions such as emotions and feelings and the way our body activates and reacts to them. This is where a coach or a gym trainer for beginners can help immeasurably by providing a personalised program and individual guidance.
When balancing the intensity of efforts and the recovery periods in a training session, we are not only pushing our tendons, muscles and bones to stress, we are also training our brain to respond to the active and resting periods. When heading into an effort, our autonomous system helps us adapt to the effort, producing sweat, raising our heart beat and respiration rate. When we get back to a recovery period, our body automatically controls the reverse of these so that we can get back to a rested state. Our brain learns to differentiate alert mode and rest mode, competition and recovery. This differentiation between being alert and being rested will eventually result in the reduction of symptoms and behaviours associated with depression and anxiety. By automating the control between these two states, our bodies can take the mental and physical training from the sports and fitness world and help us maintain the balance in our mind and body under everyday stresses.
Although these processes are helpful to balance your inner system and get you into a calm mode, developing the emotional intelligence and the skills to recognise and respond to mental health threats is crucial for us to lead a healthy life with ourselves, our families and our communities. Sport is only one of the many options we have to stay healthy, other options involve keeping positive and healthy relationships with others and ourselves, balancing a work-life routine and visit a mental health professional the same way you would visit a doctor from time to time to ensure optimal functioning of your physical and mental health.