There are many reasons you might feel like you’re experience issues with your mental health. For example, it could be that you have been through something traumatic. Maybe you were involved in a car accident or lost a loved one.
Maybe you have pre-existing anxiety or depression, and you’re looking for ways to get a better handle on it.
You could also just be generally feeling down and looking for a way to give yourself a boost.
Exercise can help you with that.
The mental health benefits of exercise are tremendous and shouldn’t be overlooked.
If you are getting past something traumatic, exercise can be a key part of your healing.
In general, when people exercise, they feel like it improves their self-esteem and sense of self. It helps them feel more positive, and it can also increase their energy levels throughout the day.
The following are some of the many things to know about exercise and its benefits for your mental health and overall well-being.
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Some of the general benefits of exercise on mental health include:
- Improved memory and thinking. When you exercise, it can slow or prevent age-related cognitive decline, and it can stimulate the growth of new brain cells.
- People who regularly exercise tend to have higher self-esteem. It can help you feel stronger and more powerful, and exercising promotes a sense of achievement.
- You may find that your sleep patterns are much improved when you exercise regularly.
- People who exercise on a regular basis are more likely to have resilience if they face challenges in their life, and they’re less likely to rely on unhealthy coping mechanisms like alcohol or drugs. When you exercise on a regular basis, it can also help improve the function of your immune system, which can reduce the effects of stress mentally and physically.
- Exercise decreases stress hormones like cortisol while simultaneously increasing your mood-boosting chemicals.
- You may be able to develop a social support system through your workouts if you go to the gym with a friend or have someone exercise outdoors with you.
Exercise and Depression
There has been research showing that exercise has benefits for the symptoms of depression that are on-par with antidepressant medications. For example, there was a study done at Harvard that found running for 15 minutes a day or walking for an hour reduced the likelihood of developing major depression by 26%.
Exercise promotes changes in your brain, including neural growth as well as reduced inflammation. It can also alter the activity patterns in your brain in a way that increases your feelings of calm and well-being.
Also, when you move your body, it releases brain chemicals called endorphins, which give you energy and generally make you feel good.
Even simpler but no less important is the fact that exercising can help you break out of your patterns and cycles of negative thoughts that may accompany or contribute to your depression.
Exercise and Anxiety
Much like depression, exercise has many benefits for anxiety as well. The endorphins released when you exercise can alleviate tension and stress and improve your energy levels. You’ll also focus and channel your energy in a more productive way.
If you struggle with anxiety when you exercise use it as a time to practice being mindful and present. For example, if you’re exercising outside by walking or running, try to pay attention to everything happening around you.
Notice how you feel when your feet hit the ground and the sounds of nature.
Learning to practice mindfulness is really important for mental health, and exercise lets you do that in a seamless way.
Even if you don’t have an anxiety disorder, if you’re under stress at any given moment, you may also find benefits from exercising. Exercise can alleviate the physical symptoms of anxiety like tension or headaches.
If you’ve gone through trauma and you’re trying to heal, you can get yourself unstuck from its effects. Much like you might with anxiety, try to make it a time to practice mindfulness.
You certainly don’t have to exercise outdoors, and depending on where you live and the weather you may not always have that choice, but when you do have the chance, taking your workout outside can bring even more benefits for your mental health.
Just being outside, no matter what you’re doing, can bring benefits like reduced obesity and better pain control.
The reason is that everything that you’re taking in on a sensory level is making you feel good.
You’ll feel more alert and energized exercising outdoors, so you may push yourself harder or feel more endurance.
The greener and more natural the area where you exercise, the better for mental health benefits.
What Types of Exercise Should You Try?
There are so many ways you can move your body and improve your mental health. A lot of people just have to find what works for them.
Yoga is a good starting point because it’s gentle on your body and good for your mind. It’s very healing, so if you’re going through something traumatic, practicing yoga can help you work through it. When you practice yoga, it can lower your heart rate and blood pressure and reduce your stress response. It can also increase your feelings of well-being.
Aerobic exercise like running or cycling is linked with good psychological health.
Even just five to 10 minutes can be helpful if you want to lift your mood.
You don’t have to look at exercise as something that’s all-or-nothing. Start slow if you’re new to it, and do what you can. As long as you’re committing to consistency you’re going to see benefits, even if you’re not currently the fittest or most athletic person.
If you try a certain type of workout and don’t like it, don’t give up. Just try something new and experiment with different times of day until you find what works for you.