5 Mental Health Principles That Translate from CrossFit to Real Life

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Since its inception 20 years ago, CrossFit has proven to be a popular form of exercise for people of all ages and fitness levels.

CrossFit is an exercise program that incorporates a variety of forms of physical activity, including aerobic exercise, weightlifting and gymnastics. It helps people work on all aspects of their physical fitness including flexibility, strength, endurance, speed and stamina. CrossFit’s aim through using constantly varied functional movements executed at a high intensity (relative to the individual) is to keep people as fit, for the whole of their lives.

But that’s not where its benefits end. CrossFit can also be beneficial for your mental health. Here are five ways it can help.

Enhancing Your Mood

Exercise is widely recognised as being beneficial for mental health conditions like depression. A recent comprehensive review of various studies into these benefits found that aerobic exercise was associated with moderate to large reductions in depression scores.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends exercise as a form of therapy for people with mild to moderate depression.

One of the ways exercise is thought to boost your mood is through the release of endorphins, which are commonly referred to as “feel-good hormones”. These hormones are the reason for the high many runners report experiencing.

What’s more, one study has found that high-intensity exercise (or exercising for longer periods of about 60 minutes) is more likely to cause endorphin release.

This makes CrossFit an ideal form of exercise for enhancing your mood because it includes high-intensity bursts of exercise.

A CrossFit WOD (Workout of the day) can sometimes be challenging. However, the sense of achievement of overcoming these challenges and obstacles can reduce negative thinking and help build and develop mental strength.

Experiencing a State of Flow

Another reason exercise might help with mental wellbeing is because it can help you get into a state of flow also known as being in the zone. Experiencing flow is characterised by being so focussed on a task that you cease to notice time passing and are less self-conscious.

This momentary loss of focus on the self can be useful for combating depression which is often associated with introspection.

People doing CrossFit may find themselves in a state of flow because they are so focussed on mastering whichever move they are performing.

Getting a Better Night’s Sleep

There is also mounting evidence that exercise can help you get a better night’s sleep.

Sleep is known to be good for emotional wellbeing although it is not clear exactly why.

We know that disrupted sleep affects the level of stress hormones you produce and can impair your thinking and emotional regulation.

Regularly being physically active is said to help you wake up less often at night and also helps you fall asleep faster and spend more time in deep sleep.

People suffering from sleep deprivation are also more likely to experience mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.

Contributing to Self-Care

Self-care is now widely promoted as a preventative measure for developing mental health conditions and one key aspect of this is looking after your physical health.

Looking after your physical health can have a knock-on effect on your mental health because it reinforces your worth.

It can also help increase your sense of achievement which is important for people’s mental wellbeing.

Those who take CrossFit to a competitive level may get an extra sense of achievement and may experience greater motivation to look after themselves. Even if you don’t compete you are likely to gain satisfaction as you improve at the various exercises involved.

Being active, especially using a varied form of exercise like CrossFit can also be enjoyable and of course, doing activities you enjoy is important for mental wellbeing.

Encouraging Socialising

CrossFit can also be done as part of a group activity which makes it a good way of socialising and making friends. It can give you that sense of being part of a community which is a vital part of mental wellbeing. Human beings are innately social and developing an affinity with other people is important to us.

The UK is said to be in the midst of a loneliness epidemic with 40% of 16 to 24 years olds saying they feel lonely often or very often. Taking part in CrossFit can be just the way to build that connection with others through a shared experience.

So if you are looking for a new way to encourage you to look after your mental and physical health this year, why not give CrossFit a try?


By Julian Phillips, Customer Relationship Officer at Nottinghamshire YMCA Gym

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