Ask a lot of people who are into fitness why they train and you’ll get an answer that refers to mental health. There’s been a massive shift in recent years from people training purely for aesthetics to people training for how it makes them feel.
Exercise is a great stress relief, moving more literally releases endorphins, it can improve confidence, possibly get you outdoors and getting fresh air. So yes training can be incredibly beneficial to your mental health.
Viewing training as what your body can do and something that makes you feel better makes exercise a positive action rather than a form of punishment, where you train to eat more or change your appearance and size.
What exercise isn’t though, is therapy. It can be therapeutic of course it can. If I’m a bit stressed or anxious going to the gym or for a run can help alleviate the symptoms. If i don’t train for a few days I can feel the difference to my mood, largely because I actually enjoy the time I’m running or lifting, it makes me feel good, is a break from whatever is going on and a chance to blast some music and focus on me.
But exercise can’t replace therapy or solve actual problems. If training is literally the only thing keeping you sane or making you feel better it’s time to look at the issues exercise is acting as a sticking plaster for. The issue when you get to this point, is if you can’t train for whatever reason, you end up feeling terrible. When you feel like training through an injury because that would be better than how you’d feel if you took some time off, or rest days sound like a terrible idea because even though you’re knackered and burnt out a day off would make you feel guilty.
The benefits of training for mental health can’t be denied but we always need to remember that for it to be a benefit it needs to complement our life rather than dominate it, which means knowing when to rest even if you really want to train, when to pull back, when to take it easy and then appreciate what you are still able to do when you can train.