June is famous for the start of summer, having the longest day of the year and of course Father’s Day. It is also Canadian Men’s Health Month, and observes International Men’s Health Week (June 14-20). This year, the theme is “Move for Your Mental Health”. According to statistics Canada one in five Canadian adults screened positive for symptoms of depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder during the pandemic. Of these, 68% reported their mental health had worsened since the start of COVID-19.
So why the focus on movement? There is strong evidence that physical activity can alleviate some symptoms associated with mild to moderate depression. Studies have shown increases in the chemicals called neurotransmitters that are decreased in depression. Another advantage of exercise is that it may act as a distraction from worry and depressive thoughts. It also has been shown to enjoyment known as a positive effect.
Exercise has been shown to improve self-image, social skills and cognitive functions. Even a brisk 10-minute walk increases mental alertness, energy and well-being.
Exercise can have a positive effect on our daily moods. People were asked to rate their mood immediately after periods of physical activity (e.g. going for a walk) and periods of inactivity (e.g., reading a book). They found that the participants felt more content, more awake and calmer after being physically active compared to after periods of inactivity. They also found that the effect of physical activity on mood was greatest when mood was initially low.
Physical activity has been shown as a stress reducer. Research on employed adults found that physically active individuals tend to have lower stress rates compared to individuals who are less active. Stress symptoms such as loss of sleep, excess sweating and appetite problems were shown to be improved with physical activity.
On average, we should aim for around 2.5 hours of moderate — intensity activity per week. This may seem daunting at first, but it only works out to 30 minutes, five days per week. It is best to choose an activity you enjoy and to which you can commit. For example, biking 40 kms each day may be difficult to schedule, and if you don’t enjoy cycling can bring a sense of dread.
Moving for mental health helps men, but it also impacts families, friends, workplaces, and our community. Fathers, sons, brothers, uncles that are active are more engaged in their community and that benefits everyone. So get moving! Take care of yourselves and each other.