Exercise is an essential part of taking care of one’s body. This is true for physical health but also for mental health. Regular exercise produces positive effects in several areas, from brain function to emotion.
Keep reading to learn more about how physical activity can improve mental health.
Exercise is commonly known as an effective stress reliever. Many people turn to exercise as a way to combat the stresses of everyday life. This is because exercising helps to reduce the levels of stress-related hormones like cortisol and adrenaline.
Physical activity not only helps reduce immediate stress, it also helps to build resilience to stress in the future. Those who do not exercise are more susceptible to the negative effects of acute stressors than those who exercise regularly.
Physical activity can greatly improve mood immediately after exercising and for some time afterwards. Even light amounts of exercise can effectively reduce negative moods and enhance positive feelings. After exercising, tension, anger, and confusion decrease, while energy and attention increase. These effects can last up to a day after exercising and consistent physical activity is recommended to maintain an improved mood.
This energizing effect can be particularly effective when exercise occurs in or around outdoor green spaces. According to an article from the American Psychological Association, even short durations of contact with nature can increase subjective happiness and well-being. This is why many people enjoy short walks outside when feeling overwhelmed or mentally distressed.
Exercise not only improves emotional and mental states, it is also beneficial in improving cognitive function in the long run. There have been connections identified between regular exercise and improved neurogenesis, the process by which new brain cells are created.
Regular exercise also strengthens the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory and learning, helping to reduce memory loss. Both of these effects aid in combatting premature cognitive decline, allowing the brain to remain sharper for longer.
While many people exercise with the intention of improving the areas discussed above, physical activity can ultimately boost confidence. Regular exercise can make it difficult to notice the improvements in one’s physical and mental state from day to day. However, being able to see one’s progress over a duration of time can be a very rewarding achievement in itself.
Climbing the stairs without getting fatigued, walking further distances without tiring, or getting closer to reaching other health goals can lead to increased endurance. These benefits can come with a boost of confidence as all the effort begins to feel more worthwhile, encouraging individuals to continue exercising.
Physical activity can also be used as an effective natural remedy for combatting the everyday symptoms of various mental health conditions. Exercise has been found to help alleviate symptoms of depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The mood-lifting effects and higher self-esteem that exercise brings can be particularly effective in dealing with depression.
However, it is important to note that exercise alone cannot be used as a complete solution for these mental health conditions. They should not be used as a replacement for prescribed medications or treatments from a doctor. While exercise can be helpful in dealing with certain symptoms, its effectiveness may vary for different people. Always speak to a healthcare professional to determine how physical activity might be incorporated as a mental health treatment.
Many people know that exercise is good for them, but committing to a set schedule can be daunting. There is no need to purchase a gym membership immediately if you have never stepped foot in a gym. Instead, try finding ways to incorporate more physical activity into your existing routine. This can include:
– Trying morning yoga or stretches
– Walking or biking instead of driving short distances
– Taking the stairs instead of an elevator
– Stretching regularly during work, especially when seated for long periods
Exercise has several mental health benefits, which only increases when physical activity is a regular part of your schedule. Today, start building effective exercise habits to gradually work towards your health goals.
About the author
Kyle is a writer for Youth Mind who studied English at Wilfrid Laurier University. When he’s not writing, he enjoys art and music.