It doesn’t matter whether we’ve been active our whole lives or we’ve never before stepped foot in a gym: everybody knows the physical benefits of working out. What is talked about far less, however, are the benefits of exercise on mental. This is perplexing, because exercise is proven to be one of the best possible things you can do for improving almost every aspect of your mental health.
Improved sleep quality, better moods, higher libido, and reduced depression and anxiety are just some of the myriad mental benefits of exercise. In this article, we’ll take a look at how exactly exercise can help out in each of these departments, and how you can get yourself motivated to exercise if you’re stuck in a rut.
What other mental health benefits of exercise are there?
Alongside those mentioned above—and of course looking and feeling better physically—people who work out will experience deeper sleep, higher energy levels during the day, a sharper mind, and more confidence. Even mental health issues such as ADHD and post-traumatic stress disorder can be helped by exercising. And it doesn’t take much! Even a little bit of regular exercise can make a difference.
Now, let’s take a look at all the areas that regular exercise can benefit your mental health…
Anxiety is a very unpleasant and debilitating mental health issue. Working out regularly can help to alleviate some of its worst symptoms, however, by stimulating the release of endorphins—chemicals responsible for making us feel happy, calm and content.
You can maximise the positive impact that your workouts will have on your anxiety by utilising mindfulness. With each movement you make, try to focus on the feelings you’re experiencing, thereby grounding yourself in the present moment and disrupting any negative thought patterns you may have been experiencing previously.
If you suffer from mild to moderate depression, exercise has been proven to help alleviate your symptoms. It doesn’t come with any side-effects either, unlike some medication available to treat depression. The only side-effect you’re likely to experience from exercise is a flat stomach and a toned butt.
A recent study by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that you don’t need to do a lot of exercise to reap the rewards either: just a fifteen minute jog or a one-hour stroll can see symptoms of depression being reduced by a massive 26%.
Exercise is great for treating depression for several reasons. To begin, it increases your brain’s neural growth, as well as reducing inflammation and establishing new patterns of activity linked with feelings of calm and happiness. And of course it floods your brain with those lovely endorphins.
Living in a long-term state of stress can play havoc with our bodies. Our muscles tense up, we get cramps and headaches, we can’t sleep, our hearts hammer in our chests, and we get weird aches and pains. On top of this, the stress we are already experiencing causes unpleasant symptoms which then cause even more stress. In this way, it’s easy to spiral into bad health—mentally and physically.
Exercise is a great way stopping this downward spiral. The endorphins that are released when we exercise make us feel more optimistic and happy, plus the exercise itself stretches and works our muscles, which can deal with those pesky cramps stress can cause.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can cause us to be scatter-brained and to have problems concentrating. Exercise releases chemicals in your brain such as serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, however, which as well as increasing our mood, can help us to focus. In fact, exercise works much the same as medication for ADHD, such as Adderall and Ritalin.
Typically, post-traumatic stress disorder manifests itself in immobilizing our stress responses and causing our nervous system to become ‘stuck’. Studies have found that, through exercise, we can ground ourselves by focussing on the physical sensations of the work we are putting into our bodies. In order for your workouts to have the best chance of helping reduce your symptoms of PTSD, make sure you do exercises that work your whole body, using your legs as well as your arms.
How to overcome mental health issues to get the health benefits of exercise
The effects of exercise on the brain are proven to be hugely beneficial. Sometimes, however, we have trouble getting started. Here’s how to overcome a few common issues…
Exhaustion often comes hand in hand with depression. To get around this, all you need to do is begin by doing short blasts of exercise whenever you get a momentary burst of energy. It doesn’t have to be much—even a short walk is enough to start. Once you’ve done it a few times in a week, you’ll begin to feel more energetic.
– Lack of drive
Lacking motivation can stop your workouts in their tracks. To get around this, don’t over-face yourself with huge and intimidating workouts. Instead, aim simply to do something. Start small and work up—so small that you can’t possibly talk yourself out of it. One press up in the morning, or a one minute walk around the block. Then build up and up!
– Feeling stressed
If you’re feeling anxious or stressed, adding a new workout plan to an already busy schedule can be difficult. Instead of cluttering your schedule by trying to shoehorn in a workout wherever you can, create a dedicated daily slot for your workouts, and make them a priority. It’ll soon become routine!
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