Improve Your Mental Health Through Exercise
When I'm having a bad mental health day, the last thing I want to do is lace up my shoes and work out. I want to stay in bed, eat cereal, and watch TV. But I've learned that regular exercise improves my mental health (and doesn't always involve putting on shoes). I've since made it a priority.
The Right Exercise for You and Your Mental Health
Half the battle when it comes to exercise is choosing a form that you enjoy. When your mental health goes down the tubes, getting out of bed can feel hard enough. How much harder would it be if you hated the kind of exercise you chose? A workout doesn't have to be physically exhausting—just getting up and moving is enough to enjoy the benefits of exercise.
Finding an activity that worked for me was a process. I didn't always have the money or energy to go to the gym. I often hurt my knees or ankles when I started running regularly. Team sports were challenging in the pandemic. Eventually, I settled on two exercise activities: walking and yoga. Both are low-impact, which is less stressful for my physical body, as well as my mind.
If you're stuck on what exercise to try, look up workout videos on Youtube. From circuit training to kickboxing, you can find something that you enjoy.
Mental Health Benefits of Exercise
Thanks to endorphins, neurochemicals released after exercise to naturally relieve pain,1 regular physical activity can make you temporarily happier. However, the benefits of exercise reach further than the short-term. If you work out regularly (at least three times a week for 45-60 minutes), exercise can positively affect your brain.2
I've seen these effects in my own life. I started with small actions, simply walking outside for 45 minutes three days a week. There wasn't much to it—I just turned on an audiobook and walked. My only measure of success was that I did it. For me, it was important to make this as easy as possible, otherwise, my exercise goals would not feel sustainable.
After a couple of weeks, I looked forward to my walks. After a few months, I felt the emotional effects. I had less anxious spirals, and my depression didn't feel quite as debilitating as it had before.
Make Exercise a Priority
Exercise has not cured my mental illness, but it's an incredible tool to combat mental illness. It's easy to put off physical activities, especially when I am busy or my mind is in a dark place. But I respect myself enough to know that I should make exercise a priority. I need that time with myself to restore my body and mind. It's likely the same for you.
What's your favorite way to exercise, and how does it help your mental health? Share your ideas and thoughts in the comment section. I would love to hear them.
- Sampson, S., "Why Do We Need Endorphins?" Healthline, July 2017.
- Gingell, S., "How Your Mental Health Reaps the Benefit of Exercise." Psychology Today, March 2018.
Clawson, A. (2021, February 10). Improve Your Mental Health Through Exercise, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, July 24 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/mentalhealthforthedigitalgeneration/2021/2/improve-your-mental-health-through-exercise