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Endurance training – the benefits
Last month we looked at the plethora of benefits that strength training can garner; this time around we will be taking a look at endurance training. In recent years, the month of November has become synonymous with some very questionable moustaches taking residency on the faces of men all over the world as they “grow a mo” in support of Movember – a charity focussed on preventing male suicide and raising awareness of how important it is to take care of your mental health.
With that in mind, I wanted to highlight the positive psychological effects that endurance training can bring and in doing so, remind us all that mental health is just as important as physical health. After all, the World Health Organisation define “health” as: “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
For the purpose of this blog, endurance training will refer to continuous steady-state exercise i.e. going for a run, getting out on the bike or jumping on the rowing machine, cross trainer or step-climber. All of these methods of exercise will increase your heart-rate and breathing-rate to a “steady-state” where your ability to supply the exercising muscles with oxygen meets their demand.
Physical health and mental health are considered to be mutually dependent and as such it would make sense that aerobic training will improve mental health alongside the numerous physical improvements which it can elicit, such as improved:
It is commonly reported that exercise releases endorphins, these chemicals interact with opioid receptors in the brain to alleviate sensations of pain as well as activating reward centres to elicit feelings of euphoria and positivity . Indeed, even just single bouts of aerobic exercise have been shown to improve indices of mental health such as mood and self-esteem . Furthermore, in both clinical and non-clinical populations, exercise training can significantly reduce depressive symptoms [8, 9].
As well as releasing endorphins, aerobic exercise has been shown to influence a pathway in the body called the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis which directly effects our physiological responses to stressful stimuli. Exercising “trains” this pathway to essentially cope with stress better meaning we are subsequently better equipped to deal with non-exercise stressors in our life. 
Exercise also provides an opportunity for improved social interaction with others. A lot of gyms nowadays come with exercise classes included in the membership fee, providing a great way to meet other individuals with similar interests and goals. Interaction with others is a basic human need and as such, participating in structured group exercise can have positive effects on mental health [11, 12].
Clearly exercise is good for the body and mind and more than ever it is imperative that we are taking care of both our physical and mental health. Something as simple as a brisk 30-minute walk can serve as a good starting point to increasing your activity levels. Why not have a look at what classes your local gym offers and signing up to something you’ve not tried before? You never know, you might just catch the bug!