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 though Pilates 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.