Benefits of Exercise on Your Mental Health
You likely know about the positive effects exercise has on your physical well-being. Even something as simple as a brisk walk each day can have your body looking and feeling strong. But did you know exercise is vital to your mental health as well?
Read on to discover the benefits of exercise on the brain.
How Physical Exercise Benefits Your Mental Health
There are lots of little things we can do to manage our mental health. Deep breathing, journaling, and grounding activities can help you center yourself and declutter your thoughts.
But exercise has a palpable, chemical effect on the brain. Enough physical activity releases endorphins, the same ‘feel good’ chemicals that flood your brain when you eat dark chocolate, laugh, or watch your favorite TV show. At the same time, exercise lowers cortisol levels, one of the hormones in your body responsible for stress.
The benefits of exercise for mental health don’t stop at the chemical level. Physical activity promotes confidence, focus, energy, and more.
How Does Exercise Affect Your Mood?
Long-term mental and emotional health can be improved through exercise. But you can also get amazing short-term results from exercise when it comes to your mood. With those endorphins pumping, you become laser-focused on your workout rather than your thoughts.
Harvard Health Publishing found a “26% decrease in odds for becoming depressed for each major increase in objectively measured physical activity.” This included the addition of aerobics to someone’s lifestyle, but also smaller actions like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, carrying laundry, or taking walks.
Even 15 minutes of exercise a day can help to keep the storm clouds at bay.
Is Exercising Good for Anxiety?
Exercise and mental health go hand in hand, and that includes anxiety reduction.
If your anxiety feels like carbonated bubbles zooming around a soda can, exercise is that satisfying snap when you pop the tab and release the fizz. Your adrenaline starts pumping, and anxious feelings fade away.
Besides endorphins, exercise can help relieve anxiety in other ways, such as:
- You may gain confidence from getting in shape and feel better about your appearance, or simply feel proud about having and keeping a routine.
- You are more likely to socialize when you exercise. Working out with a buddy not only keeps you accountable, it makes the physical exertion more bearable. Even if you aren’t making friends at the local gym, greeting people as you run or walk around the neighborhood can make you feel more connected.
- You are able to focus on exercise or your workout music instead of constant worries flooding your mind.
- You can feel good about coping with your anxiety in a healing way, rather than dwelling on how you feel or using an unhealthy coping mechanism.
With a regular exercise schedule, you may even be able to create a “stress buffer” for yourself. Studies have shown people who incorporate exercise in their lives may be better able to handle incoming stress.
What Exercises are Better for Mental Health?
To experience the mental benefits of exercise, you need to get your blood pumping. Studies have proven that aerobic exercises reduce anxiety and depression. These include activities like jogging, swimming, cycling, boxing, and dancing. Even walking and gardening are great places to start.
When you’re already depressed, anxious, or experiencing other mental health issues, it can be hard to motivate yourself. It’s even harder to stay motivated for an extended period of time. If you fall into this camp, consider making smaller lifestyle changes that can help you naturally incorporate more exercise in your life.
- Commute to work? Try parking further away than usual from your building to incorporate a small walk to and from your car.
- If your commute is feasibly short, consider walking or biking to work instead of driving or taking public transportation, even if this is just a few days a week.
- Work at your desk for a living? Make sure you’re taking some breaks every few hours. Your body and eyes will thank you. If you work from home, you can even blast your favorite music and boogie off the stress.
- Slow-moving exercise can still have a lasting effect on how you feel. Yoga and Tai-Chi for beginners is a great place to start.
- If Yoga feels too intense, even getting in some basic stretches paired with deep breathing in the morning or evening could boost your mood.
Exercise: Good for the Body and Mind
If you follow through with exercise, here are some of the benefits you may experience along with alleviated mental health issues:
- Better sleep
- Better endurance
- Stress relief
- Increased mental alertness
- Less fatigue
- Weight reduction
- Reduced cholesterol
- Improved cardiovascular fitness
So when you’re anxious about your work or life, or you just need a pick-me-up, know that feeling better might be as simple as putting on your favorite song and breaking a sweat as you dance your heart out.
MayoClinic. Depression and anxiety: Exercise eases symptoms. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/depression-and-exercise/art-20046495
NCBI. Exercise for Mental Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1470658/
Harvard Health. More evidence that exercise can boost mood. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/more-evidence-that-exercise-can-boost-mood
VeryWellMind. How Physical Exercise Benefits Mental Health. https://www.verywellmind.com/physical-exercise-for-panic-disorder-and-anxiety-2584094#citation-2
Frontiers In. Regular exercise is associated with emotional resilience to acute stress in healthy adults. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphys.2014.00161/full