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Exercise and Mental Health

Updated: Dec 15, 2021

We’ve stressed how important exercise is for your physical health. It helps prevent and improve a vast number of health problems, including diabetes, obesity, and arthritis. But did you know exercise is also good for your mental health?

Aerobic exercises, such as walking, swimming, cycling, or dancing, have been shown to reduce anxiety and depression. Moreover, participation in regular physical activity can increase our self-esteem, making us more confident and happier with ourselves.

Why does exercise make us feel better, mentally? The link between exercise and mental health is complicated, and we’re learning new things about it everyday. While we don’t know exactly why or how exercise can boost your mood, there are some possible explanations offered.

  • Regular exercise helps you sleep better, which is important for so many different reasons, including allowing your mind to recharge. Good sleep also helps regulate your mood.

  • Exercise can distract you from any negative thoughts and provide opportunities to try out new experiences.

  • Finding a group of likeminded people to join in exercise can help to reduce any feelings of loneliness and isolation by putting you in touch with other people.

  • While exercising, your mind releases chemicals including endorphins and serotonin which naturally improve your mood.

There is no doubt that physical activity can ease symptoms of depression or anxiety and make you feel better. Exercise may also help keep depression and anxiety from coming back once your mental health is better.

The word “exercise” may spark images of running laps around the gym. If you’re not already getting exercise on a daily basis, you might wonder how much of it you really need to feel a boost in your mood. The good news is: it’s probably not as much as you think. Plus, exercise includes a vast range of activities that are just meant to boost your activity levels.

Getting in 30 minutes or more of aerobic exercise a day three to five days a week can significantly improve depressive or anxiety symptoms. These exercise sessions can also be broken up in several shorter 10-15 minute sessions.

When you’re suffering with depression or anxiety, exercise may be the furthest thing from your mind. But once you get the momentum to start, exercise can make a big difference. There are a number of ways you can get started and stay motivated.

Do the exercise you enjoy

It’s important to figure out what type of exercise you’re most likely to do, as that will promote adherence to a routine. Of course, running, lifting weights, and other typical forms of exercise will do the trick. But other activities such as gardening or walking around the neighborhood can also help improve your mood.

Don’t think of exercise as a chore

If you think of exercise as something you “have to” do instead of “get to” do, you’ll associate it with failure. View your exercise schedule the same way you would look at your therapy sessions or medications: as a tool to help you get better.

Know your barriers

Take some time to figure out what’s preventing you from being physically active, and try to write down ways to overcome them. For example, if you don’t know where to start, you may want the help of a professional who knows what they’re doing. If you think about what’s stopping you, you can find a workaround solution.

It’s not a race

Keep in mind that slow and steady wins the race- build up your activity gradually. That way, you don’t do too much too soon. Additionally, give yourself credit for every step in the right direction, no matter how small.

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