Growing up Indian, I always noticed the lack of emphasis on mental health within my culture. Being depressed was treated as if it was a figment of one’s imagination; those who opened up about their issues were told to just suck it up and move on with life. Now, the acceptance of mental health being a real issue has started to arise and it has caught my attention. My main goal was to learn about the various ways that one can benefit their mental health, giving them a more positive outlook in life. One way that I hoped to learn about was getting exercise; What are the motivations and benefits of people using a local gym, especially during a pandemic? Can it benefit aspects such as their mental health and their quality of life?
In a study conducted by Stuart Biddle and Mavis Asare from the British Journal of Sports Medicine, the goal was to identify if there was a correlation with physical activity and depression, anxiety, self-esteem and cognitive functioning in children and adolescents (Biddle & Asare, 2011, para 23). Rather than finding a general correlation as a whole between depression, anxiety, self-esteem, and cognitive function, the study investigated each of them separately. For depression, the results showed that an increase in physical activity caused signs of depression to go down. For anxiety, there was plenty of data to go on to establish that active adults reported lessened symptoms of anxiety, however, the evidence for children and adolescents was too insignificant to establish any correlation. Finally, for self-esteem and cognitive function, results showed that physical activity highly benefited them. As a result, they found that increased physical activity was highly beneficial to mental health. However, the study was not able to factor in confounding variable such as psychological climate and social interactions inherent.
Observational Data and Analysis:
Although the study made it apparent that there was a connection between physical activity and mental health, I wanted to actually see for myself by interviewing those who go to the gym to exercise. My first choice of observation was my local neighborhood gym at Firethorne Country Club. The man who I interviewed was about my height, maybe a little taller, and he did not have that bulky look, he seemed like an average looking person. He was much older than I was, I presumed he was about in his sixties. I started the conversation by talking about how I was a student at UNC and was wondering if I could interview him for a research project. He said he was more than happy to help so I started about by talking about mental health and how it has affected a lot of people in my generation. He immediately agreed with me, as he mentioned his daughter had struggled with depression throughout her life. With this knowledge, I knew it would help better my case and the interview process because it allows for him to connect personally with my topic. I proceeded to ask him if he ever felt as though exercise may have benefited his mental health. He went on to talk about how he does feel, in a way, happier and satisfied with himself after finishing a workout. He then goes on to talk about how he understands why exercise can benefit mental health as he related back to what I said earlier with it making him feel happier. Towards the end of the interview, I asked him why he still chooses to go to the gym during the COVID-19 pandemic. He said that before gyms were open, all he could do was isolate himself at home, and he could tell that it was taking a toll on his mental health. He emphasized that his days felt much longer and that he lost a lot of motivation to complete tasks around the house due to this isolation. Once he realized that places started to open, one of them being the gym, he immediately rushed there and noticed a significant change in his mental health.
Due to the lack of people who attended my local gym, I asked a close friend of mine who is a freshman at UNC, Parker, to talk about his situation with going to his own local gym and how it benefited his mental health. I began the interview by asking him what the hardest part of his struggle through depression was due to the loss of his mother his sophomore year of high school. He said it was getting out of the routine of not caring about anything. He did not have anything that was constant in his life so there was nothing to help him get through his day. In the summer after his sophomore year, he told me he had a friend that basically dragged him to go the gym with him, and that was what helped him bounce back from what he was going through. As each workout went by, he felt more and more compelled to go to the gym. He slowly started to stop skipping days, and before he knew it, he was going to the gym every single day and he was setting goals for himself to achieve physically. After listening to him talk about his improvements, I inferred as though it was benefitting his mental health as well, so I asked him if it was doing just that. After asking him, he paused for a couple minutes as he thought about it. He responded by saying it did not directly benefit his mental health, it was not something that took away the pain he felt. Instead, it gave him a drive to better himself as a whole. He might not have consciously considered it before, but it seems fairly safe to infer that it did, indeed, benefit his mental health. He saw how much he was improving because of the gym and he realized that, when he puts his mind to something, he can accomplish it. With this newfound motivation, he began to improve his way of life a great deal. He improved his grades in school his junior year, he was making more friendships, and he even met someone that he believes is the love his life that he has been with for the past two years now.
The struggle of maintaining a positive mental health is something that has been going on for as long as humanity, however, only until recently has humanity started to accept it for being a real issue. As shown in the first observations I conducted, we can see how some people go to the gym because it provides them with a sense of satisfaction, or better yet, happiness. In my second observation, we can see how due to a poor mental health, some people even start to go the gym, later realizing how much it benefitted them mentally. In this day and age, mental health has proved to be a real struggle with numerous people. However, exercise can truly help with this endeavor, and hopefully, it can be a means to an end for many people struggling with mental health.
Awruk, K., & Janowski, K. (2016). Motivation for physical activity and mental health indicators in male gym attendees. Physical Culture and Sport, 69(1), 65-73. http://dx.doi.org.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/10.1515/pcssr-2016-0003
Biddle, S and Asare, M. (2011). Physical activity and mental health in children and adolescents: a review of reviews. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 45, 886-895. https://bjsmbmjcom.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/content/45/11/886.info
Featured Image Reference:
Jarret-Kerr, R. (2019). The benefits of exercise to mental health. https://www.expd8.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/The-Mental-Health-Benefits-of-excersize-4-1400×700.jpg