How Physical Activity Improves Mental Health
Half of all people in the United States live with mental health challenges. Regular physical activity is proven to improve their lives.
Research shows that the psychological and physical benefits of exercise can also help improve mood and reduce anxiety.
How does exercise improve your mental health?
A recent Harvard Study found that running for 15 minutes a day or walking for an hour reduces the risk of depression by 26%, shows a recent NIH study. The benefits of regular exercise include improved sleep, endurance, stress relief, energy and stamina, and mental alertness.
When your physical body feels better, so does your mental body. Exercise helps prevent and improve a number of health problems, including high blood pressure, diabetes, and arthritis. The increased blood flow to the brain affects the physiologic reactivity to stress. Exercise releases feel-good endorphins and other natural brain chemicals that can enhance your sense of well-being. Other benefits of physical activity are time away from stressors, fulfillment from increased self-sufficiency, increased self-confidence, and social interaction.
How to improve your mental health with exercise
It can be hard to get started with a workout routine when you already struggle mentally. It can feel like a daunting task to start and stay motivated. The Mayo Clinic suggests analyzing what you enjoy doing already, and preparing for barriers before you start. You’ll have less resistance if you choose an activity that you enjoy doing. Set realistic goals that work for you – this will make it feel less daunting.
Lastly, prepare for setbacks. Give yourself compassion, and have a backup plan in place. Is your gym unexpectedly closed? No problem – where can you go for a walk? Below are tips to start using exercise to improve your mental health.
Some is better than none
A recent study from the UK showed that those who fit in two smaller sessions during the weekend will reap almost as many benefits as those who exercise more often. It’s better to do a little than to do none at all!
How to fit physically activity into your daily life
Examine your current lifestyle when making your plan. Do you drive to work, but you could take your bike, or take the bus that you need to walk 10 minutes to? Do you have time on your lunch break for a 15-minute walk? Any physical activity that gets you off the couch and moving can help improve your mood.
How much is enough exercise daily?
Thirty minutes daily is the magic number, according to research, if it’s at a moderate, or “brisk” intensity. You can also split up that 30 minutes into 10-minute intervals and it’s just as effective.
Does my daily physical activity have to be structured?
It doesn’t! Some research shows that physical activity such as regular walking, not just formal exercise programs, may help improve mood.
What counts as “moderate exercise”?
You’ll know that you’ve achieved moderate exercise when you’re breathing heavier than normal, but aren’t out of breath. That your body feels warmer as you move, but not overheated or very sweaty.
The brain-changing benefits of exercise
Neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki discusses the science of how working out boosts your mood and memory – and protects your brain against diseases like Alzheimer’s.