When it comes to taking a holistic approach to exercise for mental wellbeing, there’s long been research into the impact of exercise helping mental health.
While health is tied to many things – your diet, your hormone levels, and the way that your body produces serotonin, it’s possible to find effective relief through exercise.
Research has shown that even a relatively small amount of exercise for mental wellbeing – for example, ten minutes walking, can boost our energy, improve our moods, and increase our alertness levels.
If that’s what you can do with ten minutes of exercise, what about mental health exercise therapy?
Well it turns out that regularly taking part in exercise helps to increase your self-esteem, as well as limiting the impact of stress, and reducing anxiety levels. The boost of physical fitness can also have a long-lasting positive impact on our mental health.
The benefits of exercise on mental health and wellbeing
So let’s take a look at the way that exercise and physical fitness can boost our moods. While we’ve already covered that a ten minute walk can have some positive effects, there’s also many ways that exercise can contribute to a positive mental change.
The best exercises for experiencing mental health benefits come from low-intensity exercise. For the optimum results, you want to be taking part in around half an hour’s exercise, 3 – 5 times a week. After around ten weeks, you’ll find that your mood is gently boosted and there’s an improvement in your alertness.
How exercise improves our stress levels
To understand how exercise benefits our mental health, it’s important to understand the physical impact that something like stress can have on our bodies.
Typically, anxiety and stress have an impact on our body because they cause our body to go into a fight or flight response. A stress response can make us feel uncomfortable, as well as triggering a whole number of other effects.
This is thanks to adrenaline, cortisol, and noradrenaline, you might find that these hormones can cause you to sweat profusely, have difficulty sleeping, and lead to a lack of appetite. Not only does that cause your blood pressure to increase, and increase our heart rate – not in a positive way, but in a way that puts your body into a panic situation.
Not only does the stress affect your body, it also takes its toll on your brain and the nerve connections there. Physical exercise releases chemicals that can combat adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol. Endorphins act like body-made pain-killers, as well as helping you to sleep more deeply – another excellent antidote to stress.
While longer term exercise has proven benefits, even meditation has been proven to produce endorphins, which all work to combat stress.
The effect of exercise on depression and anxiety
So now that you know how exercise can release the body’s natural anti-depressants, it’s easy to see how it can be used as an effective way to challenge depression and anxiety.
While we’re not suggesting that mental health can be cured with exercise, it’s possible to enjoy some of the mental health benefits from regular exercise. A lot of people choose to incorporate exercise as an accompaniment to medication and treatment, including psychotherapy or antidepressants.
One of the best parts of how your health can be improved through exercise is that it doesn’t have to cost you anything, and there’s no long waiting lists to enjoy the benefits. It’s completely within your control how often you want to exercise for, how many times a week, and how long you continue.
You may also experience a rush of empowerment by choosing to incorporate exercise as part of your self-care routine. There isn’t a right way or a wrong way to enjoy exercise, and many popular kinds of exercise are easy to find via YouTube, your local sports center, or recommended to you by friends or family.
How do I start using exercise to improve my mental health?
The secret of using exercise to help your mental health is that all you need to do is begin. It can be tempting to consider investing a lot of money and effort on equipment and memberships, but it’s never been easier to find places where you can enjoy exercise for mental wellbeing.
That being said, you may want to ask yourself what kind of exercise would bring you happiness? For example, if you’d rather run away from a serial killer than take up jogging, that’s more than fair!
From dance classes to yoga, pilates to kick-boxing, it’s important to make sure that you are doing things that you want to do. Particularly as you’re hoping to enjoy the mental health benefits of exercise, it makes sense to only do something that you’d like to do – rather than feeling obligated or like you must do it.
Also consider that it makes sense you might not want to be alone. Exercise can be a social interaction too – or if you’d rather go it alone, that is more than acceptable. Whatever you’d be interested in, give it a go.
However, there are a few general rules that can help you take part in more physical activity (and enjoy yourself!)
Just like you make time for work and play, and dates for drinks and dinner. Make time for your physical activities so that don’t end up missing them. This is particularly important for your mental health as the last thing you need is to give yourself something else to worry about or to increase your anxieties!
Sure, you might think that you can go from being a couch potato to working out ten times a week at a super expensive members’ only gym. But how realistic is that as an idea?
Instead factor in your time and budget, and if you feel comfortable doing so, reach out to your friends and family to get some extra support – whether that’s providing you with a babysitter, or cheering you on for moral support.
What kind of exercise suits what you’re trying to do? If you’re hoping to work out some pent up aggressions, you may want to consider boxing or some kind of martial arts. However, if you’re looking for the opportunity to relax and unwind, something like yoga or swimming might be more your speed.
Remember: when it comes to exercise for mental wellbeing, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach.
If you’re wary about joining a gym or don’t want to spend lots of money on your exercise habit, then it’s always worth seeing what little changes you can implement into your daily schedule. Instead of having a snack in the middle of the afternoon, why not go for a walk around the block? Or instead of taking the elevator, give the stairs a go.
Don’t push yourself too hard
Another key thing to remember is that it might be tempting to start out supercharged, going as hard as possible. However, particularly if you’re out of the exercise habit, this can easily lead to mental and physical exhaustion – or even physical damage. Instead, give yourself the opportunity to build and develop your personal routine so that you don’t end up demoralized.
Try setting some goals
While the mental health benefits of physical activity might not be the best place to bring in elements of competition, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with pushing motivation to try to get more done.
There are plenty of apps you can use in order to see how you’re changing and developing. Why not look at your phone pedometer to see if you can increase your daily steps by 100 steps a day, or 1000 steps a week.
These moments of incremental change might not feel like much, but in a month you could end up doing 4000 more steps than you did at the beginning. The rush of achieving this can have a marked impact on your mental health – all for the better.