We all know that working out can benefit us physically, but what is often overlooked is just how powerful exercise is for your mental health. From improving your mood in the moment to significantly reducing stress and easing symptoms of major depression over time, a fitness regime is often the gift that keeps on giving—and you don’t need to have a professional athlete’s discipline to reap the rewards.
Research shows that adding exercise to your regular routine not only helps you live longer, but also happier, achieving a greater overall sense of well-being. It’s a cause-and-effect relationship that parallels what we have long known about exercise and physical health; i.e. the reduction of body fat and improvement of heart health, etc. Often, the same people experiencing those benefits will find their mind following suit.
Along with improving your general mood and outlook, exercising can give you a better night’s sleep, increase your energy and reaction times, and reduce your daily tiredness and anxiety. These are payoffs that can stay with you long after you leave the gym.
What Kind of Exercises Should I Do?
While any exercise from weight training to rock climbing can help unlock the mental rewards of exercise, studies show that simple aerobic activities such as swimming, dancing, and running can be particularly effective options.
Body movements such as those used in yoga and tai chi can be highly beneficial to your mental health, as well. With yoga, you are practicing mindfulness, which helps to ease anxiety and stress and encourages you to be present in the moment.
Whether you do aerobic, strength, or stretching exercises, there is a usually an important sense of accomplishment when you finish, creating a natural high of feel-good endorphins that genuinely lift your spirits and can impact how you approach the rest of your day.
How Much Should I Exercise? How Often?
The general rule is about 30 minutes of brisk exercise three to five days a week to get the mental benefits of exercise.
If you don’t have time for a full workout session, research shows three 10-minute walks are just as effective as one 30-minute walk. Doing as little as 10 minutes a day can give you a mental break from the day-to-day routine. Set a timer at your desk; once it goes off, take a lap around your office.
The more you exercise, the more it becomes a part of your everyday routine, like brushing your teeth or taking a shower. The key is doing regular physical activity to get the mental benefits. Once you have established a consistent pattern—which may take a few weeks—you will really start to notice the mental difference, and you’ll also be more driven to keep going.
Exercise With a Friend
Many people can benefit from finding someone to exercise with, preferably someone on a similar journey. This will help to give you some encouragement while you’re exercising towards better mental health. Having an exercise buddy could also create a sense of accountability. This carries a “where have you been?” aspect if you skip a class, helping you to stay motivated.
For more help in improving your mental health via exercise, the experts of the Southeastern Med Wellness team are here for you. We also offer top quality Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, and Athletic Training services for both experienced athletes and newly active members of our community.