Although not widely recognised outside of the combat sports world, almost everyone who is a part of it speaks positively about the link between combat sports and mental health. And technically, this is true of all exercise. There’s a wealth of evidence to suggest that keeping fit is good for your mind as well as body.
But what exactly are the benefits of exercise to your mental health? And what specific benefits does martial arts have?
The Feel-Good Hormone
Exercising is good for your body, so every time you exercise, your body rewards you by releasing a flood of endorphins. Often termed the “feel-good hormone,” endorphins relieve stress and pain and increase happiness.
In fact, endorphins are so powerful that they function exactly the same way as opioids such as heroin and morphine. This is why that feeling of general contentment and happiness you get after exercising is called a “runner’s high.”
And endorphins don’t just have short-term impacts, lower endorphin levels have been linked to depression and anxiety. Exercising has been scientifically proven to increase endorphin levels. Researchers took brain scans of participants before and after exercise and found that their endorphin levels had significantly increased.
Depression & Anxiety
The weight of evidence to suggest that exercise is an effective treatment of depression and anxiety has grown over recent years, so much so, that some doctors will now first prescribe exercise to a patient before chemical medication. A recent Harvard study found that running for 15 minutes a day reduces your chances of suffering from depression by 26%. And aside from the previously mentioned endorphin boost, exercise serves as a break from the world, allowing you to temporarily forget about your worries.
If you think that a lack of focus and direction in your life is harming your mental health, then exercise, and sports in particular, are a great place to start. Whether it be beating your best time, lifting a heavier weight, or becoming a better team, sport allows you to set goals and direct your energy towards achieving them.
Not only will this increase your energy levels and prevent you from stewing over negative thoughts, setting and achieving goals is great for your self esteem.
So the link between exercise and mental health is well documented, but what about martial arts? If you’re seeking to exercise to improve your mental health, is combat sports a good choice? While there is much less scientific research in this area, few people who have trained a combat sport would dispute how great it is for your mental health.
Any form of exercise reduces stress, but there is arguably no form of exercise which reduces stress as well as martial arts. Is there any stress reliever quite like smashing the bag for 30 minutes? Is there anything which makes you forget your troubles better than some hard sparring rounds? How many of us have gone to the gym after a tough day and come out feeling 100x better? Yes, running is therapeutic, but it’s nothing compared to combat sports when it comes to relieving stress.
Dealing with mental health issues is never easy, but it’s a whole lot easier when you have a supportive community around you.
Combat sports classes are a great way to find lifelong friends. Nothing brings you closer quite like kicking lumps out of each other. If you think isolation is affecting your mental health then get yourself down to a martial arts gym. No matter the gym, you’ll be welcomed with open arms and made to feel at home.
Learning a martial art is full of challenges, and each time you overcome one of those challenges your self esteem receives a massive boost.
Whether it be learning a new sweep, being given a belt promotion, or finally lasting a full round, there is no shortage of confidence-boosting moments in a combat sport. On top of this, the knowledge that you can look after yourself will give you a new found confidence and overall boost to your self esteem.
General Cognitive Benefits
This surprises some, but martial arts has actually been proven to improve brain performance. Combat sports have been linked to improved working memory, increased focus, and a better ability to multitask.
And it makes sense when you think about it. BJJ, for example, is often described as a real-life chess match and one can easily see how learning and applying the techniques would improve brain performance.
In summary, there’s a whole load of evidence to suggest that martial arts is good for your mental health.
Whether your aim is to reduce stress, combat depression, or improve your self-confidence, combat sports are well worth a try.