Exercise Effects on Mental Health

From a young age, you hear that exercise is good for you. It’s not a secret. But as you get older, work, family, and life get in the way, and you have less time. Sometimes exercising feels like the last thing you want to do with the time you have left. You probably already know that exercise is good for your heart and body, but it can also help you deal with stress, depression, and anxiety. Physical exercise isn’t just about how fast you can run or how big your muscles are. Exercise’s effects on mental health are often a top motivator to move more.  

Physical Exercise and Mental Health 

Exercise recommendations for adults include 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity per week with strength training on two days. Globally, one in four adults don’t meet the recommendation for exercise

Physical exercise benefits the body, heart, and mind. It can help prevent diseases, maintain a healthy weight, and manage stress and anxiety. Being active releases chemicals in the brain that make you feel good. These chemicals are known as endorphins. Endorphins interact with receptors in the brain, make you feel happier, and they can also act as a natural painkiller as it reduces your perception of pain.

Exercise is often underrated and underused as a treatment by mental health professionals. Dr. Tirrell De Gannes, a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in New York, recommends exercise for patients. “The connection between mind and body is well documented. As long as it’s not clinically contraindicated (a bad idea clinically that goes against helping the client), exercise helps,” he says. 

7 Effects of Exercise on Mental Health 

Regular exercise can have a profound and positive impact on anxiety, stress, and depression. It has a massive potential to improve your well-being. Although it can feel hard to get into a new exercise routine or start moving for the first time in a while, the effects of exercise on mental health are worth it. 

   1.Better Sleep 

For many people, moderate-intensity exercise can improve sleep quality. One way it does this is by decreasing the time it takes to fall asleep and the time you lie awake in bed at night. Research indicates that exercise may help decrease insomnia with the effects of exercise similar to sleeping pills.   

   2. Improve Mood 

Starting a new exercise regime can feel overwhelming. “It’s understandable. It seems like a daunting task to add a new aspect to your life but start with fifteen minutes on any cardio machine and see how you feel. Something is better than nothing,” says Dr. Tirrell De Gannes. 

One study found that running for fifteen minutes a day or walking for an hour reduces the risk of major depression. Little bits of exercise add up. You don’t need to run a marathon or spend hours at a spin class. Moving your body a bit each day helps to improve your mood.  

   3. Manage Stress and Anxiety 

Exercise is key to mental fitness. It’s effective for reducing stress, increasing concentration, and relieving anxiety. Physical exercise reduces stress hormones and releases feel-good chemicals. Activities like running or playing a sport are also a good way to get some frustration out, enjoy time with friends, or distract yourself from the worries of daily life.   

   4. Increase Self-Esteem and Self-Confidence 

Whether it’s yoga, dance classes, or hiking, regular exercise can improve how you see yourself. Feeling strong and looking good tend to come with a regular exercise regime. You can start to see improvements in weight, muscle tone, fitness, and energy levels. This can make you feel much better about yourself, increasing your self-confidence. Exercise can have a positive effect on self-esteem. 

   5. Create Discipline 

Sticking to an exercise plan isn’t always easy. Sometimes you don’t want to go to the gym or head out for a run on a rainy evening. At some point, everyone feels like this. But, a regular exercise routine can help to improve your self-discipline. Yes, it’s a challenge. However, it teaches you to focus on the task at hand. You learn how to persevere. All this can translate into other areas of your life and work. 

   6. Raise Energy Levels 

It’s easy to think that you will have less energy as you exercise. But this isn’t the case. The body is clever, and you can improve various mechanisms through exercise. The more you exercise, the more you produce mitochondria in your muscles on a cellular level. Mitochondria are powerful cells that create fuel from your food and oxygen from the air. The more you have of these cells, the higher your energy levels.  

Another way exercising raises energy levels is by increasing the circulation of oxygen in the body. Also, the hormones you release during exercise make you feel more energetic. 

   7. Boost Memory and Thinking Skills 

Exercise can boost your memory and thinking skills in two different ways. First, it directly impacts your body by encouraging physiological changes that support the overall health of your brain cells

Poor sleep, low mood, and high stress can contribute to poor cognitive function. By improving these areas, exercise indirectly helps to boost memory and thinking. 

What are the Best Exercises for Mental Health? 

It’s hard to know where to start when you add anything new to your life. Whether you’re looking to eat healthier foods or start a new hobby, there’s a lot of information out there. Dr. Tirrell De Gannes recommends that you “start small and increase as desired. If the plan is to work out once a week, it’s manageable and any other times you go is a bonus. It is a great way to get invested mentally and not set yourself up for failure.”

There is no one perfect answer for the best exercise for mental health. For most people, it’s an exercise that they can commit to and even enjoy. Starting small can mean a quick lunchtime walk two times a week. It’s something you can build slowly. 

Walking and Hiking 

One of the simplest and most accessible forms of exercise is walking. A walk in nature can offer huge benefits to mental health. The aim is to intentionally move your body in a way that’s manageable and enjoyable. 

Yoga and Tai Chi 

Popular mind-body practices include yoga and tai chi. Yoga is ideal for gentle movement, and when you encompass breathwork, it can do wonders for stress and anxiety. By incorporating long-slow breaths and dynamic stretches, it can calm your nervous system. 

A growing body of research supports yoga’s mental health benefits. Studies show that yoga can strengthen social attachments, reduce anxiety, and relieve stress and depression

One study on the effects of yoga on student mental health issues found that yoga had a significant and lasting impact on the students. It helped to reduce symptoms of distress and improve sleep quality among students. 

Aerobic Exercises for Mental Health 

Aerobic exercises cover a range of activities. During aerobic exercise, your body releases endorphins. It’s these chemicals in the brain that are responsible for the ‘runner’s high.’ Releasing natural brain chemicals through exercise can enhance your sense of well-being and reduce depression and anxiety. Aerobic exercises for mental health include: 

  • Running 
  • Swimming 
  • Jogging 
  • Cycling 
  • Dancing 
  • Gardening 

Almost any type of exercise will help both your mental and physical health. If you’re struggling with anxiety, stress, or depression, speaking to a therapist can help you navigate intense life transitions and move forward. 

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