The Mental Health Benefits Of Exercise
While you’ve no doubt heard that breaking a sweat is good for you, you may not realize just how true that statement is. There’s no question that regular exercise like walking, lifting weights, or playing recreational sports can improve your physical health.
However, the perks of regular exercise include both physical and mental health benefits. That’s right — you can use exercise for mental health “gains” as well as physical improvements.
Numerous studieshave demonstrated the impact of walking, running, and cycling on mental health. Still, you can use other types of exercise for mental health purposes, too, including lifting weights, doing yoga, swimming, or performing just about any strenuous activity.
7 Benefits of Regular Exercise
There are many benefits of walking or regularly engaging in other types of physical activity. By making exercise a priority, you can:
1. Reduce stress
While several chemicals and hormones influence your stress levels, cortisol is one of the primary culprits that can leave you feeling burned out and overwhelmed. The good news is that the benefits of regular exercise include decreased cortisol levels.
When you exercise, your cortisol levels drop, and your body releases mood-boosting endorphins. This combination of feel-good effects can result in a major mood shift that lasts for hours.
While hitting the gym probably isn’t at the top of your priority list when you’re feeling stressed, it turns out that that’s exactly what you need to be doing. Even a short moderate exercise can trigger an endorphin release and reduce cortisol.
2. Improve self-esteem
Engaging in regular exercise can help you achieve your physical fitness goals. Whether you want to shed a few pounds, tone up, or increase your cardiovascular fitness, setting a goal and accomplishing it can be incredibly rewarding.
As you check off your goals, your self-esteem will skyrocket. You’ll be more confident both privately and publicly. In turn, your new feelings of confidence can create a snowball effect that leads to more fulfillment, both personally and professionally.
3. Decrease Feelings of Depression and Anxiety
If you’ve ever struggled with anxiety or depression, you know firsthand just how difficult these challenges can be. Fortunately, tapping into the benefits of exercise may help you overcome feelings of depression and other mental ailments.
The next time you start feeling low, consider going for a walk, riding your bike, or lifting some weights (making sure you respect your physical limitations while you do). Doing so can make you feel empowered and stop you from getting lost in negative feelings.
Exercise can be a great addition to your existing treatment or coping strategies.
However, if you’re working with a mental health professional, continue seeing them and keep them informed of your new exercise regimen. They may be able to provide some guidance on maximizing the benefits of physical activity.
4. Improve Sleep Quality
A poor night’s sleep can leave you feeling run down, and if you string together several nights of poor sleep, you’ll be even more stressed and anxious. Poor sleep quality can be especially detrimental to your well-being if you already suffer from a mental health condition like anxiety or depression.
Many factors can negatively impact your sleep. For instance, nervousness or stress can make it difficult to put your mind at ease. When you combine these negative feelings with a sedentary lifestyle, too much caffeine, or both, you might find it impossible to get enough rest.
Practically, setting yourself up for a great night of rest is as simple as exercising and monitoring your caffeine intake.
Some people like to work out in the morning, while others prefer late evening sweat sessions. Experiment with a few different workout times to see what leads you to the most restful night of sleep.
5. Optimize Your State of Mind
Wasting hours or days stressing about things that are beyond your control doesn’t do any good. When your thoughts seem to be getting the best of you, sometimes the fitting solution is to distract yourself. However, certain distractions, like alcohol, can have a negative impact on your mental health.
The next time you want to take your mind off your worries, consider exercising instead. Go for a walk, lift some weights, swim a few laps, or just have a private dance party in your living room. You’ll get a break from your worries and make progress toward your physical health goals in the process. Talk about a win-win!
The benefits of walking daily or performing other types of exercise also include an enhanced state of mind. As such, you can use exercise to feel sharper and more focused. These effects typically last several hours and can help you be more productive during that time.
6. Broaden Your Social Circles
Strong friendships can be a positive outlet for stress and give you someone to turn to when navigating life’s many challenges. If you’re looking to expand your social circle and open yourself up to new connections, exercise is a great way of accomplishing both goals.
Most local gyms and community centers host group classes, workshops, and other events throughout the year. Take advantage of these occasions to rekindle your passion for movement and learn new skills with a group of like-minded individuals, any one of whom could become your new workout buddy.
7. Enhance Feelings of Self-Worth
Exercise boosts your self-worth by improving your physical performance, making you more confident in your appearance, and creating a sense of accomplishment.
When you knock out a hard workout, check off a fitness goal, or surpass a major milestone, you’ll feel proud of yourself, which will help fuel your desire for more growth and improvement.
What Sort of Exercises Should I Perform?
Ready to take advantage of the enriching effects of exercise on mental health but aren’t sure where to begin?
Don’t worry — exercising doesn’t have to be as complicated as it sometimes seems. You don’t need an expensive gym membership or advanced knowledge of weightlifting. All you need to do is get up and get moving.
One of the most popular activities for improving mental health is walking. Simply lace up your favorite pair of shoes and take a few laps around the neighborhood. You might be surprised how much better you feel after a brisk 20-minute walk, even if you’re already active.
You’ll need to break a sweat if you want to reduce your stress levels and boost your endorphins even more. Consider jogging or running for a minute or two at a time during the session to get your blood flowing and your lungs working overtime. If you’re feeling up for a challenge, try running a few miles or finding an incline to run some hill sprints.
That rounds out our list of benefits of exercise on mental health. The next time you need a psychological pick-me-up, take the counterintuitive approach and move your body. Making exercise a core part of your daily routine will help you enhance both your physical and mental health.
To maximize the benefits of exercise, make sure you’re listening to positive, uplifting music while getting after it. Filtering out negativity, profanity, and dark or upsetting content can do wonders for your state of mind.