Living in fast-paced societies can get overwhelming, making us face challenges hard to overcome. The multitasking, the struggle to keep up with the deadlines, and the ordeal of having everyone satisfied can seriously impact our general well-being. We start to lose sleep, neglect our diet, or even face physical or mental illness.
Stress is the most common type of change that causes physical, emotional, or psychological strain. It can contribute to anxiety and depression, two of the most common health conditions. Studies show that over 18 million people in the U.S. suffer from depression in any given year.
Everyone is aware of the benefits of exercise on physical health, but only some of us know the benefits of exercise on mental health. In comparison, medication might have a high failure rate in treating mental disorders or may bring unpleasant side effects. The therapy might be time-consuming and expensive. Thus, exercising could be one of the most effective, least disruptive, and cheapest ways to manage mental health.
Exercising could significantly impact our mental and cognitive health if taken regularly and with the right intensity.
What are the benefits of exercise on mental health? Let’s see some of these benefits and how they can impact our daily lives.
1. Reduces symptoms of depression
Depression is both a brain disorder and a state of mind. Not only does it make you feel low in the periods you suffer from it, but it can also lead to reduced quality of life and lower life expectancy in the long term. The medication is not always suitable, as many patients suffering from chronic depression have a severe clinical response.
Although it might feel like the last thing on their minds, sufferers who engage in regular physical activity reap substantial benefits—periodic, low-intensity exercise results in improved brain function.
A study in the American Journal of Psychiatry overviewing over 33,000 people suggested that 12% of new depression cases could be prevented if the participants exercised for at least one hour per week. Exercise is effective even though depression has been diagnosed.
In a study led by Duke University, researchers found exercise to be as effective as antidepressants, decreasing depressive symptoms in some by as much as 70%.
2. A solution for anxiety
Anxiety has become a common issue, and many faces it daily. Studies show that one in five Americans over 18 has a chronic anxiety disorder. If untreated, it increases a person’s risk of developing other psychiatric disorders, such as depression, and can contribute to diabetes and cardiovascular problems.
Researchers say that people that suffer from anxiety tend to be more sedentary and do less physical activity. But they should be aware that engaging in physical activity could be the single best nonmedical solution for preventing and treating this condition.
Physical activity could ease anxiety in many ways. For example, it could divert the people suffering from it from the things that make them feel anxious. Also, moving the body decreases muscle tension, lowering the body’s contribution to feeling anxious.
Another benefit is that increasing your heart rate changes brain chemistry. It develops the availability of critical anti-anxiety neurochemicals, including serotonin.
Regular exercise activates the brain’s frontal regions in charge of executive functions. They help control the amygdala, our reaction system to real or imaginary threats to our life.
Exercising builds up resources that boost resilience against stormy emotions.
3. Improves our self-esteem
Self-esteem can influence life in myriad ways, from academic and professional success to relationships and mental health. It is how we value and perceive ourselves. Self-esteem is based on our opinions and beliefs, which can be challenging to change.
Self-esteem is higher in those who regularly exercise as they can see they have higher motor competence, a sound cardiovascular system, and a more positive sense of self.
High levels of self-esteem improve our overall mental health, creating more positive self-perception, increasing self-belief, and improving body image and self-image.
There are many mechanisms by which exercising increases our self-esteem. First, in the short term, exercise enhances our mood and puts our minds in a more positive state. Second, physical activity makes us feel good about our physical self in the long term.
Last, exercise gives us a sense of accomplishment that enhances our confidence.
4. Enables a sense of connectivity
Maintenance of social connectivity throughout the lifespan is essential to successful aging. Poor social relationships negatively impact the quality of life and general well-being of older adults and are associated with loneliness.
Regular physical activity is a healthy behavior that can ease meaningful relationships and serve as an alternative to medical treatments. Exercise helps build friendly and trusted relationships between participants based on shared interests and similar needs.
Engaging in physical activity with other participants is related to loneliness reduction models, stress reduction, and increased social support during activities. It also gives participants a sense of belonging and purpose, so it’s valuable if going through a transition phase.
The longer-term social benefits are great as well as when you are more active and engaged with others, your quality of life increases.
5. Improves our behavior
When studying the benefits of exercise on mental health in children, a fascinating area is how it improves their behavior. Researchers reported in the book “Psychology of physical activity: Determinants, wellbeing, and intervention” that it significantly improves their behavior. They cooperate better, are less aggressive, and take more responsibility for their actions. This improved behavioral regulation is helpful for everyone—especially those with executive function deficits like ADHD.
6. Enhances brain activity
One of the most important benefits of exercise on mental health is that it enhances brain activity. Physical activity can improve your cognitive health, helping you think, learn, problem-solve, and enjoy an emotional balance. It can also reduce the risk of cognitive decline, including dementia.
Exercise helps memory and thinking both directly and indirectly. The benefits of exercising come directly from its ability to reduce insulin resistance, reduce inflammation, and stimulate the release of growth factors.
Indirectly, exercising improves mood and sleep and reduces stress and anxiety. Problems in these areas frequently cause or contribute to cognitive impairment.
Tips for including exercise in your daily life
Before starting an exercise program, it is safe to check with your doctor first to see whether you have any undiagnosed issues that may interfere with your routine. Then start by setting a goal that is close to what you are doing at the moment.
A brisk walk could be an excellent first step if you don’t exercise. Afterward, you can enhance the level of intensity according to your own pace, and don’t forget to celebrate each goal you achieve.
While having a rigorous routine might have visible benefits for your physical health, choosing your type of physical activity and the level of intensity will benefit your mental health. Pick an activity you enjoy, like dancing, to boost your energy and mood. Forcing yourself to do something you’re not enthusiastic about may only increase your stress levels.
To truly experience the benefits of exercise on mental health, you should incorporate physical activity into your daily routine. While you can feel the positive effects of exercise after a single session, research showed that the most significant benefits of physical activity were felt after 15-30 minutes of low to moderate-intensity exercise at least three times a week.
Consider engaging in physical activity with other participants to make your exercise routine more enjoyable. Engaging in team activities and playing towards a shared goal can create feelings of inclusion and achievement.
The benefits of exercise on mental health will significantly improve if supported by a healthy diet. While making healthy food choices, your body will recover easier from physical activity.
It will give your organism the right amount of carbohydrates and protein to help repair your muscles.
Eating fruits and vegetables is a good source of fiber, which is essential to gut health. A diet based on liquids is also crucial to overall health. If you’re not getting the right amount of fluids during the workout, your heart rate will increase, and the muscles will have to work harder.
Exercising may have a positive effect on your sleep. Ensure you get appropriate rest between training sessions.
When picking the best time to exercise, consider that dynamic physical activity made less than an hour before going to sleep may alter your ability to fall asleep. If you prefer or your schedule forces you to train in the second part of the day, ensure you have enough time to recover. A warm shower could be an excellent therapy to help your body prepare for sleep.
How much exercise do we need?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source recommends 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity five days a week for 150 minutes. In addition, CDC guidelines advise two sessions of more vigorous training per week.
Keep it simple if you’re sweat-averse and dread the idea of exercise. Consider a walk with a friend or dancing in your home.
You can start to see the mental health benefits nearly immediately. One 30-minute moderate aerobic exercise session, such as a brisk walk, has decreased short-term anxiety.
As seen above, there are multiple benefits of exercise on mental health. Start with easy steps and gradually incorporate physical activity into your daily routine. You will reap the rewards sooner than you will expect.
Not to mention that your physical health will improve as well.
If you’ve already started incorporating exercise into your daily routine, let us know about the improvements you have seen in the comment section below.