Updated: Mar 29
Mental health awareness has become very abundant since the start of the pandemic. However, the research regarding mental health and exercise has been around much longer than the beginning of Covid-19. Nobody wants to have extra anxiety, stress, decreased sleep, or other stress related reactions. So then why are so many people turning to medication, alcohol, or other unhealthy behaviors instead of using a simple and basic tool that can get you feeling better while spending little to no money at all???
The tool I’m referring to is exercise, which is proven to be one of the more beneficial, natural first steps you can take in mitigating any stress and mental health issues. In today's blog post, we will go into the mental health benefits of incorporating any sort of exercise into your routine.
Before we get into it, I will put in this one caveat: the exercises I am talking about does not have to be anything intense or sport specific; it can be very simple and easy (especially at first) and you can increase the duration and intensity as you see fit.
Benefits of Exercise
Helps Improve the Release of and Increases Levels of "Happy Hormones"
Exercise is associated with the introduction and improvement of overall levels of happy hormones. Crucial to mental health, lack of these hormones can lead to low motivation, depression, and low energy. The hormones associated with the natural "happy drugs" include serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine.
If you are familiar with these names, you might be aware that they are associated with other systems in the body like movement itself for dopamine (pleasure or feeling good about oneself), serotonin (gut health), and oxytocin (feeling of being in love). Higher levels of these will help to benefit your health overall.
Improves Sleep and Overall Energy Capacity
You may think that doing some level of exercise would make you have less energy throughout the day, however, it's the complete opposite! Increasing your body's capacity to perform activity overall will improve your daily ability to perform tasks throughout the day without feeling sluggish, or lethargic. Without exercise, your capacity to do regular activity is your specific limit for what you are able to do.
If you end up doing more one day versus a "regular" day this can not only impact your physical stress but also your mental health due to that lack of energy. Of course, the additional activity level will make you sleepy to some degree. However, the introduction of additional serotonin into your system is one of the reasons why you will have improved duration and more restful sleep (especially when you give yourself the recommended 6-8 hours). When you have improved sleep, you are more likely as well to have more energy and improved mood.
When faced with mental or emotional challenges in life, exercise can help you build resilience and cope in a healthy way, instead of resorting to alcohol, drugs, or other negative behaviors that ultimately only make your symptoms worse. Regular exercise can also help boost your immune system and reduce the impact of stress.
Regular activity is an investment in your mind, body, and soul. When it becomes habit, it can foster your sense of self-worth and make you feel strong and powerful. You’ll feel better about your appearance and, by meeting even small exercise goals, you’ll feel a sense of achievement.
Sharper memory and thinking
The same endorphins that make you feel better also help you concentrate and feel mentally sharp for tasks at hand. Exercise also stimulates the growth of new brain cells and helps prevent age-related decline.
Regardless of your current health status, improvements in your own physical health can be greatly improved by increasing your exercise duration and activity. Now these physical changes can be drastic or gradual over time depending on what type and how long you have been incorporating exercise into your lifestyle.
Whatever that means to you, it is all beneficial. This can include fat mass loss, improved/increased muscle mass, increased attention from your preferred partner, improved confidence in self to accomplish something. It all includes exercise and moving more!
What Types of Exercise Will Help Me Improve My Mental Health?
Like I said above, it does not need to be significant or expensive. It can be as simple as just going outside and going for a walk. Your ability to enjoy the activity and have it be something that you can maintain consistently is more important than the effectiveness of the exercise, especially at first. Where and what you take it to is up to you! Walking, cycling, swimming, walking in the pool, dance classes, CrossFit, weightlifting, running, etc. are all good forms of exercise to get into and all things that can be used to improve your mental health.
If you are someone who does well in a group, especially if it helps with your consistency...go for it! This will improve your mental health even further as you get congratulations, motivation, and encouragement from other group members/teammates with each of your achievements.
How Long Do I Need to Exercise Before My Mental Health Starts to Improve?
As I have mentioned above, you do not have to go crazy or complex. It all starts with your first achievement of actually doing something about it. When you are able to start and then complete something, that's already your first result of mental health improvement....ACCOMPLISHMENT! From there, you can build and progress to get additional benefits that I have mentioned above.
In the grand scheme of things, you generally want to progress towards an exercise level of 20 minutes minimum of activity and strive to achieve 30-60 minutes of activity daily. This does not have to be exactly every day but can be for three to six days a week. This will not only cover your daily activity requirements as described by the FDA but will also improve your overall mental health.
Easy Ways to Move More That Don’t Involve Too Much Planning
Don’t have a block of time to dedicate to yoga or a bike ride? Don’t worry. Think about physical activity as a lifestyle rather than just a single task to check off your to-do list. Look at your daily routine and consider ways to sneak in activity here, there, and everywhere.
Move in and around your home
Clean the house, wash the car, tend to the yard and garden, mow the lawn with a push mower, sweep the sidewalk or patio with a broom.
Sneak activity in at work or on the go
Bike or walk to an appointment rather than drive, use stairs instead of elevators, briskly walk to the bus stop then get off one stop early, park at the back of the lot and walk into the store or office, or take a vigorous walk during your coffee break.
Get active with the family
Jog around the soccer field during your kid’s practice, make a neighborhood bike ride part of your weekend routine, play tag with your children in the yard, go canoeing at a lake, walk the dog in a new place.
Get creative with exercise ideas
Pick fruit at an orchard, dance to music, go to the beach or take a hike, gently stretch while watching television, organize an office bowling team, take a class in martial arts, dance, or yoga.
What Aren't You Telling Me?
Mental health is a very complex and can be difficult to treat. I can vouch for that myself, as both a health care practitioner and prior sufferer of anxiety, panic attacks, and stress induced fainting episodes. Personally, I have used exercise to handle all my stress and anxiety needs.
The information above is not just provided based on personal experience but from years of working with injured athletes who feel a loss of identity when they cannot exercise and their need to find other ways to mitigate mental health needs, as well as studying detailed research over those same years.
If you are dealing with issues regarding your mental health, please always seek out a medical professional who can best address your needs. Medication in combination with exercise and other interventions may be needed to address more significant issues. I hope this was very helpful for you. If you know of someone else this post may help out, please share it with them.
If you are an injured athlete or are dealing with minor mental health issues while also dealing with joint pain and want to see if exercise introduction can help mitigate both, please feel free to reach out to see if Ascent Physical Therapy, PLLC is best fit to address your needs. We would be more than happy to speak with you and get a detailed description of what you have been dealing with as well as point you in the right direction regardless if we are the best fit or not. Please call to us at Ascent Physical Therapy!
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