The role of physical exercises on mental and spiritual health – Caroline Ademiluyi


In the last 2 articles, we have discussed quite a bit about Aerobic and Anaerobic exercises-about  the nature and benefits of each of the exercise type.  Both are beneficial and each should be incorporated into the regular routine; they both have their place in a well-rounded fitness routine. However, If your primary concern is to shed excess fat, then you need to do more of the anaerobic exercises.


Moderation is an important virtue to maintain, when engaging in these exercises as  beginners; Generally, it is prudent  to begin with aerobic exercises such as walking, jogging  and strength training two to three times a week.

As you build up endurance and strength, you can add in anaerobic exercises such as weight lifting or pushups. These exercises help you gain muscle, burn fat and increase your exercise stamina.

A  medical  doctor’s approval has to be sought if you have been inactive for a long time or living with a chronic condition, before commencing a program of aerobic exercises. Is important to start slowly and work up gradually to reduce the risk of an injury. For example, start by walking for 5 minutes at a time and add  5 minutes each time  until you can walk up to a 30 minutes brisk walk.

Since  Anaerobic  exercises  can be hard on the body, it is not typically recommended for fitness beginners. For workouts like High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and weight training, a  Fitness  professional  can demonstrate the correct exercise techniques, which is important for preventing an injury.


There is growing scientific evidence that exercise enhances mood, reduces anxiety and improves overall well being. Two common mental problems are Anxiety and Depression.


 Regular aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease the amount of anxiety a person typically experiences in daily life. Most likely, low to moderate level intensity exercise is best for overall anxiety reduction, while an exercise intensity level that is too  high  may be of little or no benefit.


Exercise is also considered to be a good way to help a person get out of a depressed state.  Many people feel  tired , unmotivated, sluggish and lethargic when they are experiencing a depressed mood. Research shows that exercise helps go against these effects. Regular exercise seems to be effective in reducing the likelihood of a relapse in depressive symptoms for people who have had a depressive episode. Research indicates that mild to moderate intensity exercise may be more effective in reducing depressive symptoms than more intense exercise. Exercise has been shown to have anti-depressant effects for those diagnosed with mild to moderate clinical depression but may not affect the occasional low moods of non- depressed people.


Although exercise can have helpful effects related to mood, anxiety and overall fitness level, it can also lead to problems when performed in excess. Over-exercise can lead to health, relational and even financial problems.

Exercise abuse used to be known by the following names-  Exercise Addiction, Exercise Dependency Syndrome and Activity Anorexia.

Symptoms of Exercise Abuse are as follows:

  • Excessive reliance on exercise, usually daily, as the primary or only means of coping with emotions, anxiety and self-esteem. It often leads to a state in which the person is continually increasing the amount of exercise they perform; this may result in neglect or relegating to the background, other important activities and responsibilities e. g. work, family, school, and/or social obligations.
  • Exercising even while sick or injured: The Exercise abuser often exercises at high intensity level and consequently at high risk for injury. Despite being injured, such people often refuse to stop exercising long enough to let the injuries heal. Exercising while injured can lead to more serious injuries and exercising which  can lead to delayed recovery.
  • Experience of Withdrawal symptoms:  When an Exercise abuser stops exercising ,usually  due to circumstances beyond control like very serious injury, commonly reported symptoms, similar to substance abuse have been reported:  These are  Altered sleep patterns, Difficulty in concentrating, mood swings,  Physical symptoms e.g. Muscle stiffness and soreness; Other symptoms are Distorted self-image(e.g. thinking one looks too fat or too skinny) . Symptoms like this can have a rapid onset, usually within a few days.       

Despite the many benefits of Exercise for people experiencing difficulties with mood and anxiety, it  should only be used as a complement to therapy for mood and anxiety; relying solely on exercise as a means of coping is not recommended. A Mental Health Professional should be consulted if experiencing significant depressive or anxiety symptoms.

Challenges such as Exercise Abuse occur when exercise is perceived or taken up as an END (a“ Do or Die ‘”Affair)  rather than as a MEANS to physical wellbeing. Such wrong attitudes can leads to obsessions and other anomalies , which can lead to Exercise Abuse. The right mental and spiritual attitude to Exercising is to regard exercising as a means to Wellness and not as an end in itself.This will engender Patience with oneself, Healthy love of self, Appreciation of one’s efforts and other healthy spiritual attitudes.


Physical exercises such as Aerobic and Anaerobic exercises contribute tremendously to that active process of being aware  and making choices  that leads towards an outcome of optimal Health and Well being called WELLNESS.

Wellness is not a passive or static state, but rather, an “active pursuit” that is associated with Intentions, Choices and Actions, as we work towards an optimal  state of health and wellbeing: In addition, wellness is linked to Holistic Health-that is, it extends  beyond physical health and incorporates many  different  dimensions that should work in harmony.

Physical wellness increases physical fitness: By being physically fit, a person will have enhanced ability to prevent illness and disease.  Exercise stimulates a healthy mind and body. A sedentary  lifestyle can be avoided by increasing physical activity in everyday  life such as walking, cycling and other aerobic exercises  as well as anaerobic exercises. Other aspects of physical wellness  involves  having good nutrition i. e. eating a balanced diet, drinking sufficient water and getting adequate sleep.

On one end, patients with poor health are supposed to make proper arrangements to get medical care to treat the illness; on the other end, people can focus proactively on prevention and thus maximize their activity. They adopt lifestyles that improve health, prevent disease  and enhance their quality of life and a sense of well being. Wellness is proactive, preventive and driven by self-responsibility for Healthy living.

Caroline Ademiluyi is a Lagos based Pharmacist.

Leave a Reply
You May Also Like