Physical activity keeps your body healthy, whether your workout is primarily cardio to keep your heart healthy or you’re lifting weights to build muscle. You know that in order to keep your body working efficiently, you have to remain physically fit. The emphasis on physical fitness can sometimes overshadows the importance of making sure you’re exercising your mind too.
Mental fitness is also an important aspect of your overall wellness. Recent studies have shown that being physically fit can also improve your mental fitness. The connection between the body and mind is becoming increasingly more apparent. Engaging in exercise has been shown to improve mental health and reduce anxiety. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 40 million adults in the United States experience an anxiety disorder. The National Institute of Mental Health reported that an estimated 16.2 million adults in the United States experienced at least one depressive or mood disorder. It’s clear that many individuals can benefit from increased physical activities.
You may become more active at the suggestion of your doctor to decrease your risks of chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes or heart disease, so why wouldn’t you work out to reduce feelings of depression and anxiety? There’s a reason something called “the runner’s high” exists. Exercise can produce feelings of happiness and give you an overall sense of well-being.
How Exercise Affects Your Mental Health
After a bad or stressful day some people may go for a run or hit the gym to relieve stress. This behavior is common because endorphins are released during exercise and they make a person feel better. Committing to an exercise routine can make you feel more relaxed and energetic throughout the day, get better sleep, and improve your memory.
Exercise and Anxiety
In addition to the release of endorphins during and after exercise, working out can help the brain react differently to triggers that may cause someone anxiety. Researchers compared the body’s response to exercise to the fight or flight reaction we experience when faced with a dangerous situation.
When we feel like we’re in danger or anxious our body reacts and we may experience increases in sweating, dizziness, and a racing heart beat — all of which can be a result of exercising. The idea is that because you choose to exercise, you are now in control of the feelings that you may experience during a panic attack. Your brain can learn to associate with these symptoms with exercise instead of danger.
Exercise and Stress
When we’re stressed we often have tension in our muscles and can experience headaches. Some people don’t realize how mental health disorders or conditions can cause physical pain. When you exercise, the endorphins and other chemicals that are released into the brain like serotonin, help to ease the tension and tightness your whole body is experiencing.
There are also certain workouts where you can take out aggression or stress like kickboxing, wrestling, martial arts or even mixed martial arts. When you exercise, you release the stress and break the cycle of the tension and pain you were feeling.
More Mental and Emotional Benefits of Exercise
In addition to helping alleviate some mental health conditions, exercise can have additional benefits for the brain that include:
- Better coping mechanisms: When you’re faced with the inevitable stresses or challenges of life, working out can help you cope with those stresses in a healthy way. Some people may resort to alcohol or drug misuse but regularly exercising can boost your immune system and help reduce the impact of stress.
- Better sleep: Whether you do an intense high intensity-interval training(HIIT) workout or just a quick jog around your neighborhood, exercising can help regulate your sleep patterns. If you tend to work out more in the evening or night hours, relaxing or meditative exercises like yoga can help you sleep.
- Better memory and thinking: When endorphins are released they make you feel better and they also can help you concentrate on tasks. In addition, exercise stimulates the growth of new brain cells which can help prevent a decline in cognitive function.
- Better self-esteem: Working out results in a better physical appearance, so looking good can make you feel better about yourself. When you meet small goals that you’ve set for yourself, you’ll also feel a sense of achievement and it can increase your self-worth.
- Better energy: Working out helps to make you more physically fit and increases your energy levels. The sleep regulation can also help your body work at the highest level.
How to Get Started with Exercise
If you decided to start exercising and improving your overall health, it can be intimidating when thinking about how or where to start. These feelings of intimidation can be exacerbated if you’re someone struggling with a mental health disorder like anxiety or depression. Once you overcome the barriers of feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, hopeless or having negative thoughts about yourself, some tips to ease your way into a healthy lifestyle include:
- Start small. It’s important to remember to start with small goals, so that you can achieve them and build your confidence. Don’t just focus on long-term goals, those take time so the results are likely not immediate. Set smaller goals that you can meet along the way as you move closer to reaching your long-term goal.
- Focus on activities you enjoy. If you don’t like the gym, don’t go to the gym. There are plenty of ways to be active, you can take walks or runs with friends, garden, or play your favorite sport.
- Reward yourself. Exercising itself can be rewarding, once you establish a routine, but until you get to that point you can treat yourself with a nice bubble bath, a health smoothie or even a new workout outfit.
- Get Social. It’s human nature to want support, when you exercise with friends or family or even a gym class it can make exercising more enjoyable. Having a companion may also motivate you more because they might push you to do more than you normally would.
Exercising is a great way to get your body in shape, but it can really be beneficial to our overall health. While exercising can reduce the feelings of depression and anxiety for some people, if you find yourself suffering from a mental health disorder seeking treatment may be the best option for you. At The Recovery Village, a staff of experienced professionals offer a complete program of care. Call and speak with a representative about what treatment programs could work for you.