There are countless reasons why physical exercise is good for your body, ranging from having a healthy heart to improving your bones and joints. Still, the positive effects regular exercise has on mental health are often overlooked.
Physical activity is beneficial for your overall well-being and mental health, and it can have a profoundly positive impact on anxiety, depression, and ADHD. Exercise has lots of other benefits, including relieving stress, helping you sleep better, improving memory, and boosting your overall mood.
The good news is that you don’t need to be a fitness fanatic to reap the benefits of exercise on your mental health. Research indicates that even modest amounts of exercise can make a real difference.
How does exercise impact mental health?
Many people find that physical activity helps them boost their mood and maintain positive mental health. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to train every day at the gym or run a marathon.
There are lots of ways to get moving and feel better, but it’s often difficult for people with anxiety and depression to be physically active, especially when feeling unwell.
While exercise may seem like an impossible challenge when you’re feeling unwell, it’s important not to be very hard on yourself. Take baby steps to find out what works for you and figure out a routine that works for you.
Exercise has been proven to alleviate many of the symptoms related to depression, including tension, fatigue, anger, and low energy feelings. People who experience other anxiety-related conditions such as PTSD or panic disorder can use physical activity as a way to reduce feelings of worry and release built-up tension.
How does exercise help with your overall well-being?
Physical exercise has been proven to help enhance the well-being of people who struggle with their mental health and of those who are already mentally healthy.
Here are the most important reasons regular physical exercise can be good for your overall well-being:
Boost your self-esteem: Regular exercise that becomes a habit can make you feel strong and powerful and foster your sense of self-worth. When you exercise regularly, you’ll feel a sense of achievement while also feeling better about your appearance.
More energy: By increasing your heart rate at least a couple of times a week, you’ll feel more energized overall. If you find it difficult to get motivated, start with just a few minutes of exercise a day and increase your workout as you feel better.
Sharper thinking and improved memory: The endorphins released through exercise make you feel better overall, but they also stimulate you mentally and help you concentrate. Moreover, physical activity also stimulates the growth of new brain cells.
Improved sleep: Even a bit of exercise in the morning or afternoon can help you regulate sleep patterns. Relaxing exercises such as yoga or stretching are good options if you prefer to exercise at night.
Stronger resilience: Exercise can help you cope in a healthy way when faced with mental challenges in life. It’s a much better choice than resorting to negative behaviors such as alcohol or drugs, which ultimately make your symptoms worse.
What types of exercise benefit mental health?
The Department of Health recommends that adults be active every day and complete a minimum of 2.5 hours of physical activity every week. The good news is that there are lots of ways to get active and boost your mental health.
Here are the types of exercise that could have a positive impact on your mental health:
Running or walking — outdoor exercise can be particularly beneficial for people with depression and anxiety. The clarity and expansion you feel after a jogging session (also referred to as the “runner’s high” is highly motivational for many people.
Yoga — Yoga has lots of benefits for your physical and mental health, including lowering your heart rate and blood pressure, reducing depression and anxiety, and increasing overall feelings of well-being. You can opt for a gentle or more challenging type of yoga, but most forms involve a mix of physical poses, controlled breathing, and periods of meditation.
Tai Chi — a form of ancient Chinese martial art, Tai Chi blends rhythmic breathing and meditation with body movement and poses. Some of the benefits of Tai Chi include lowering blood pressure, reducing stress, improving the mood, increasing self-esteem, and reducing anxiety.
Pilates — even thoughPilates focuses on core strength and back health, it has multiple mental health benefits that are often overlooked. Pilates is, in fact, ideal for stress reduction and relaxation.
Spin classes — Modern spin studios make fitness fun thanks to their bespoke playlist, strobe lightning, and choreographed routines. Many people like to burn off anxiety via pedaling, and spin classes are a great way to leave your worries behind.
Resistance training — Bodyweight exercises and lifting weights can have a positive impact not only on how you look but also on how you feel. Resistance training is not just about building muscle but also about building self-esteem. Research has shown that even low-intensity resistance training can lower anxiety and improve your mood.
Even a bit of physical exercise is better than nothing. If you don’t have the time or energy to go to a class or complete a 30-minute run, it’s ok. Try to start with 5 to 10-minute sessions and then slowly increase your workout time. The more you exercise, the more energy you’ll have, so you’ll soon feel like you’re ready for more.
If you’re not attracted by any form of exercise, in particular, keep experimenting until you find one that works for you. Make exercise a fun part of your everyday life, and you’ll be able to reap all the benefits physical activity has for your mental health.
Have you ever thought about doing burpees for your brain? Or mountain climbers for your mind?
Speaking of which, how do we exercise our brains? Our brains are organs, not muscles, and we can’t flex them or use them to perform the perfect pushup (well, not physically speaking).
However, it’s still a great idea to treat your brain like a muscle. Flex it, stretch it, get it moving — or you may find that it doesn’t work as well as it used to.
To that end, here are 7 excellent brain exercises to strengthen your mind.
1. Get Some Exercises
Turns out you really can do burpees for your brain and mountain climbers for your mind. While these exercises may not have a direct impact on your brain like they do on your glutes, exercise, in general, has a huge positive effect.
On top of that, exercise helps stimulate the production of endorphins. These feel-good chemicals can help you combat a number of things including depression and even alleviate physical pain. For some people, proper exercise is as effective as medication for easing their symptoms.
Though the effects may be secondary, a positive physical and mental state helps keep your brain healthy and strong.
2. Learn a Language
Do you really want to put your brain to work? Try learning a new language.
The cognitive benefits of learning another language are undeniable. This activity comes with a list including:
Better critical-thinking skills
Better listening skills
Improved focus and concentration
Improved ability to multi-task
Being more creative and flexible
Aside from all that, it has been shown that bilingual people (who also have risk factors for Alzheimer’s) tend to develop the disease later than their monolingual counterparts. The effect is so profound that researchers are looking into bilingualism as a strategy to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s, even though there is no known cure.
Furthermore, learning a new language opens up your world and allows you to experience things you never could before. When you travel to the country where they speak your target language, you can engage in the culture and understand more than you ever could as a monolingual tourist.
People love that you took an interest in their culture enough to learn their language. You’ll get a fascinating look below the surface and develop a deeper understanding of the world through someone else’s eyes.
3. Learn a New Skill
Learning a whole new language is a pretty ambitious undertaking. For most people, it will require years of hard work to truly master their target language.
However, learning any new skill is beneficial for your brain. You don’t have to become a full-time linguist to reap some of the brain-boosting benefits. Different activities will have different benefits for your brain, but you should choose activities that appeal to you the most. This gives you the best chance of sticking with your new skill. Here are a few ideas:
Researchers in this study found that participants who engaged in cognitively demanding tasks like learning a new skill showed improved memory when compared to participants who did something fun, but not challenging, like watching TV.
The beauty of this brain exercise is that it never ends. Once you master one skill, you can move on to another. You will continually add to your skills, enriching your life experience as well as becoming a more accomplished human being.
4. Teach Someone Else a New Skill
What should you do with all these skills that you are learning? How about passing them on? Teaching someone else about new things that you are learning is a delightful way to spend your time. Plus, you’ll be stretching your brain and practicing the skill as you teach it.
Teaching a skill requires a more intimate understanding of it than simply “getting by.” This forces you to dig deep and really understand the concept. Plus, you’ll be reviewing basics and solidifying your own knowledge of the subject.
Furthermore, if your student is having difficulty grasping the concept, you’ll get an even more comprehensive brain workout. This will require you to be more creative and discover a different way to explain or demonstrate the concept until the other person succeeds in grasping it.
5. Use Your Non-Dominant Hand
What if you don’t have much time to devote to the “brain-training” game? Learning a language or a new skill is a huge time commitment. Many of us are faced with schedules bursting at the seams.
The good news is that there may already be activities on your schedule that are helping to exercise your brain. The even better news is that there are tricks you can use to exercise your brain without adding a new commitment to your load.
Have you ever tried to eat with your non-dominant hand? How about trying to write? A lucky few will have little to no difficulty with this exercise. However, the non-ambidextrous among us will find this activity to be quite challenging. Scooping up the last bits of cereal in your bowl turns into a feat to be mastered and writing is an epic challenge of Olympic proportions.
Most importantly, you put your brain to work. Working with your non-dominant hand is not a mindless task. You have to consciously think about how your hand is moving as well as little things like which direction to write numbers or you’ll write your 3s backward.
So the next time you sit down to eat, challenge yourself to eat with your non-dominant hand. Eventually, it will be easy, but for now, you’ll give your brain a great workout.
6. Listen to Music
Few activities exercise the brain as thoroughly as listening to or playing music. The ability to hear music, that is turn the vibrations that pass through the air and strike our eardrum into electrical signals that the brain can translate, is so baffling that scientists still have no idea how it works.
Music is so incredibly complex. There are mathematical, structural, and architectural components. Deciphering music puts the brain through a workout akin to putting your body through a circuit training routine that hits every major muscle group in your body.
But, just like doing the same circuit training routine over and over again isn’t as effective, listening to the same music isn’t as effective for working out the brain. Why? Because your brain has already figured out those songs. Listening to new music requires more effort from your brain to make sense of the sounds.
This is particularly effective if you move out of the genre you are accustomed to listening to. There is a reason that older folks love the music from their era and will choose it every time. It’s comfortable and, whether they realize it or not, their brains don’t have to work as hard to decipher it.
So, break out some new music, change up the genres a bit, and challenge your brain to something new.
Double it up by learning to dance to a new style of music. The music, exercise, and learning new dance moves are all excellent brain exercises and you’re sure to have a lot of fun!
Humans were not designed to live on their own. There’s a reason that solitary confinement is the worst level of imprisonment in a jail. Socialization is important to our mental health and withdrawing from the world is often quickly accompanied by depression and anxiety.
On top of that, many social activities also involve other activities that are good for the brain. For example, listening to music, dancing, playing a sport, and learning (or teaching) a new skill.
Keeping Your Brain Healthy and Strong
The brain is a complex and fascinating organ. There is still so much we don’t understand about how it works. The mind is even more of an enigma. Perhaps the design is simply too sophisticated for us to truly understand it.
However, we do know that certain lifestyle factors such as nutrition, exercise, and the willingness to be lifelong students have a big impact on the health of this crucial part of our bodies.
Feeling like you could use a refreshing break? Mental health a lot of times takes a back seat to the more obvious physical health, but it is just as important, if not more so. We provide a safe place for people to relax and recharge.
Contact us today if you feel like your brain could use a bit of pampering!
When in recovery, many clients turn to a hobby to help fill their time and improve their mental well-being.
One of the most common lifestyle choices is to take up exercising, which is great for making your recovery experience a positive and rewarding one.
If you think about it, exercising may very well be the polar opposite of drug or alcohol abuse.
While drug and alcohol abuse can cause long-term physiological and mental concerns, exercise not only drastically increases physical and mental health, but it can also help safeguard a recovering addict from relapse.
Of course, if you’re a recovering addict, it can be difficult to revert so suddenly from one behaviour to another.
Committing to and sustaining a workout regimen can be challenging in the best of times, so if you’re battling an addiction, it may very well be the furthest thing from your mind.
However, research has proven time and time again that exercising can be a huge help to those in recovery, and it can also provide several mental and physical health benefits.
The science of exercise and your brain
From a scientific standpoint, the benefits of exercise are widespread and numerous. Aside from the obvious physical benefits such as weight loss, cardiovascular fitness, and a decreased risk of diabetes, cancer and heart disease, exercise is also remarkably effective at protecting your brain.
Research indicates that exercise can increase the amount of new nerve connections in your brain, which helps heal from any damage your addictions may have caused. Long-term alcohol usage is especially notorious for wreaking havoc on white matter in the brain, which links brain cells to one another.
Moreover, certain drugs – in high enough doses – can cause nerve cells in your brain to lose their dopamine transporters, which inhibits your capacity to feel motivation and reward. Exercise is known to have the opposite effect. It is able to release dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins – all chemicals that are known to cause relaxation and cheerfulness.
To put it simply: exercise has the power to literally create happiness within your brain.
The benefits of exercise while in recovery
Exercising isn’t only important to the recovery process – it’s beneficial to your general well-being. Here are some further benefits to maintaining a fitness or exercise regimen while in recovery:
It helps structure your days
Whether you have a set workout plan or you’re simply finding yoga videos on YouTube, exercising helps take up time that might otherwise be spent fixated on your past addictions.
It gives you a sense of control
A life of addiction generally contains very little structure.
A regular fitness regimen can help organize an otherwise structureless lifestyle and give you a better sense of physical and mental autonomy.
It reduces stress
Exercise, by its very nature, helps with stress reduction in a way that’s healthy both mentally and physically.
It gives you confidence
When you take care of your body and mind, you’ll feel better than when you don’t. Better yet, your increased self-esteem will stick around as long as you stick to your newfound workout habits.
It reduces drug-seeking behaviour
Exercise is proven to reduce the drive toward drug-seeking behaviour and cravings, providing alternative behaviours and inciting positive change.
It rebuilds and rewires your brain
Extended drug and alcohol abuse can damage the connections between brain cells.
But, regular exercise (especially aerobic workouts like jogging or cycling) can help rebuild those connections, which in turn helps rebuild dopamine and endorphin transporters, making your recovery experience happier and more positive.
How do I start finding happiness through exercise?
For many people, the very idea of exercising can be daunting. Those who struggle to start might find one (or several) of these phrases running through their heads:
‘I’ve never exercised before – why start now?’
‘I don’t know how.’
‘I won’t be good at it.’
‘I don’t have time.’
‘I’m too out of shape.’
Do any of these sound like you?
When you’re in recovery, it’s important to be open-minded and remind yourself that you, as a person, are stronger than your addiction.
So, if you find you’re struggling to get started, remember that exercise doesn’t have to be complicated.
Workouts can take many forms – yoga, powerlifting, running, cycling, pushups, sports – and most often, the simplest solution is the one that’s likely to bring you the most joy. Research even indicates that something as easy as walking for 30 minutes a day can have huge health benefits.
The best thing to do is to just get out there and start. Whether it’s a new sport, or via an app on your phone, experiment a little and find something that you love to do, and stick with it. The structure and ease will soon follow.
For recovering addicts, a healthy relationship with fitness helps mend your mind in a way that few other hobbies can.