The close link between martial arts and mental health

Unfortunately, the close link between martial arts and mental health used to be shrouded in mystery. Thanks to a lot of bad 80’s movies, no doubt.

We’ve all seen the image of the wise old master, holding an hour long split-stretch on top of a misty mountain. Inevitably turning to his student and giving a speech about the mind, discipline or something else profound. Cue pan-pipe music and Jean-Claud Van Damme looking all confused.

But, there’s actually some real science behind it all. Not just bro science, legitimate studies carried out by scientists from a multiple of fields.

Martial arts seems to hold many other benefits besides turning people into living and breathing weaponry. It can also help turn average bro’s into mind ninja’s too.

So, let’s take a look at how channelling your inner Bruce Lee could turn you into the baddest brah, with the zennist brain;

The Exercise High

You know that super pumped feeling you get after smashing a heavy session or an outdoors run? Of course you do.

Yeah, your whole body might feel like a big burning bag of lactic acid. But inside your mind, you feel awesome. You’ve got life by the balls and everyone needs to know it.

Every real gym bro feels this way at some point. It’s not just all physical gains and DOMS you know, we want that buzz. We want that rushing exercise high that’s extremely mentally rewarding. Some guys just like to feel good on the inside too.

Extra Endorphin Release

For years everybody credited this to endorphins being released into our bodies. Endorphins are nature’s own pain-killers, designed to help us combat discomfort by activating opioid receptors.

When we workout, our bodies react by secreting these different hormones within the brain and central nervous system.

However, new studies suggest that it can sometimes be an hour before endorphins even reach our brains. Meaning it might not even be these specific hormones that make us wanna whoop after smashing a super set.

So, what could it be then?

New Science Suggests Neurotransmitters

Scientists are now saying that training highs could possibly be caused by neurotransmitters. More specifically;

  • Anandamide
  • Serotonin
  • Norepinephrine

So, when you’re out there under the bar searching for that endorphin rush, think again. It might be the norepinephrine and serotonin you’re craving.

But, where does martial arts fit into all this?

Serotonin Secretion

serotonin formula

Let’s take a look at serotonin. Believed to help look after both mood and social behaviour, serotonin is a real feel-good compound.

Exercising regularly is a great way to naturally increase our natural resources, and what is martial arts? Yeah, you get the picture – it’s exercise.

So, by encouraging the body to release serotonin martial arts helps to constructively combat stress. Trust us, there’s seriously nothing like gloving up and hitting the pads after a long day at the office.

Don’t just take our word for it though. Studies show that high intensity sports like kickboxing can help to beat down fear of anxiety-related feelings.

Helps To Boost Confidence

One undeniable advantage to taking up a martial arts is an inevitable boost in confidence.

There’s a tonne of reasons why this is though, some more obvious than others. These include;

  • Weight Loss
  • Reduced Fear of Attack
  • Community Spirit

Let’s take a look into these even further.

The Weight Loss Principle

man holding tape measure to waist

The weight loss principle is pretty simple. Calories in should be safely lower than calories out. Yeah, complicated right?

Weight loss from a healthy diet and exercise should then lead to increased muscle definition. Meaning an all-round better body composition.

Then, when you start to look good, you begin to feel good. Not just physically, but mentally too.

However, as most of us sit down all day, we have to find effective ways to burn our calories;

Running on a treadmill in a soccer mom gym watching re-runs on the big screen? Sorry, couldn’t hear you over the sound of boredom.

Combating The Calories

Fortunately, learning how to become an actual ninja can be that fun it’s sometimes easy to forget cals are being torched.

According to, a dude weighing 170lbs could burn through a whole 680kcals of energy doing just one hour of judo. Sixty minutes of cool trips, overhead throws and submission holds instead of regular cardio? Sign us up.

Reduced Fear of Attack

It’s cool bro, we all know you can bench more than anybody else in town. Ain’t nobody here gonna deny that. But will those big muscles help you out in a bad situation?

Sure they will, if you’re going to overhead press a guy to death. We’re just kidding, we don’t know if that’s even possible.

So, wouldn’t it also make sense to know exactly what to do if sh*t got real? That’s where the self-defence element of martial arts comes in. Many combat styles have their own methods of how to defend against an attacker.

The Gracie family had their brand of Jiu Jitsu grown on the streets of Rio, for example. A method based purely on positioning, leverage and timing.

Keeping It Cool

Knowing how to react effectively makes life a whole lot more chill. You can walk down the street with a date, carrying a cool level of confidence without any “What If?” anxiety.

Therefore, practising self defence in a controlled environment regularly can help us feel safer in the outside world. Meaning more brain-space for living, and less taken up by worrying.

Plus, what do the ladies love more than a guy that oozes confidence? Especially one that’s comfortable in his own skin and can keep calm under pressure. Nothing, that’s what.

Community Spirit

martial arts team

Working out can often be a one man against the world assault. We hit the gym with a fire playlist, put our headphones on and go to work. Eat, sleep, train, repeat. But what effect can this approach to living have on our mental health?

Well, it’s a fact that we all need a little social interaction to maintain a healthy mind. Sorry bro, Instagram likes don’t count.

However, becoming part of an MMA team does. Imagine trying to spar yourself? That would seriously suck.

Kick Loneliness’ Ass

Becoming part of a positive community based around learning and improvement does great things for the mind. Instead of getting stuck in the cycle of only socialising online, martial artists meet and interact in the offline world everyday.

This type of interaction and social contact has been proven to tackle loneliness, therefore improving mental well-being. Becoming part of a community can be a great way to;

  • Improve Social Skills
  • Make New Friends
  • Build Support Networks
  • Learn New Skills
  • Help Others
  • Receive Positive Feedback

All of which can help maintain a healthy state of mental well-being.

To Sum It All Up

The great thing about martial arts is there’s a style out there to suit every personality.

Maybe you’re just a dude who likes to shin-smash Muay Thai pads into oblivion? That’s cool. Maybe it’s the cognitive challenge of a technical Brazilian Jiu Jitsu roll that’s more your style. That’s cool, too. The only way to find out is by trying different arts first hand yourself.

Fortunately, you don’t have to dethrone Conor McGregor or become an Olympic Judo medallist to experience these brain gains.

Most martial artists are just hobbyists looking for a fun and challenging way to stay in shape.

So, are you ready to enter the dojo, bro?

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