Do you exercise?
Why do you engage in physical activities? For some, it’s to build physical stamina and sculpt their physique. For others, it’s to feel refreshed and fit to tackle the world.
What about you?
Most people will agree that physical activities are beneficial.
However, they are oblivious to the positive effects of exercise on mental health and stamina.
Exercise and Mental Health Research
The emotional benefits of exercise are plenty. Psychological disorders such as chronic stress, anxiety, depression, and even ADHD, can improve by throwing your exercise gears on, and engaging in a well-deserved workout.
An extensive list of exercise and mental health research substantiates the role of physical activity in endorsing wellbeing. These observations were made under different circumstances, from persons with comorbidities, and in mixed-age groups. Below you’ll find a few selected exercise and mental health research observations that I found beneficial. This isn’t an exhaustive list and, sure enough, if you do a bit more digging, you should find a lot more resources.
- A group of depressed college students was assessed using seven different exercise interventions, to determine what methods work best. Of the seven methods used, tai chi demonstrated higher efficacy against symptoms of depression.
- A cross-sectional study revealed a connection between exercise and mental health. About a million persons, 18 years and older, were assessed using the survey system of the CDC Behavioral Risk Factors Surveillance.
- Research shows that regular exercise may be used to reduce the damaging effects of stressors. This is because of the release of neurotransmitters, among other factors.
How Does Exercise Improve Mental Health?
Exercise improves mental health in various ways. When you string up your boots and head for a jog (among other things), you’re not just building physique, but affecting different body systems to perform at their peak.
Let’s look at how physical activities accomplish this.
Promotes Changes in the Brain
An associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School noted that exercise is “really for the brain, not the body.” This is because exercise can make you smarter.
This isn’t an excuse to throw out your books and stop reading. Physical activity merely enhances the process of learning.
Moderate exercise sessions, not a once in a blue moon workout, eggs on chemicals in the brain that incites feelings of euphoria and pleasure. Rather than wait for those happy moments to hit you, you can create your happy place.
Did you crawl out of bed sad and irritable? Start exercising.
Are you feeling anxious? Get started with a regular exercise routine.
Are you feeling down, moody, and crushed? Exercising can uplift the spirit by releasing norphenylephrine, serotonin, and dopamine hormones in the brain.
You might not understand the lingo between physical fitness and mental health, but trust that a good workout routine is great for your psychological health. And the best part? It’s prescription-free.
Serves as a Form of Distraction
What can you do to avoid ruminating on negative thoughts? What one step can you take to avoid fuelling discouragement and replaying negative moments?
Exercise. That’s it.
When you’re in desperate need of distraction, start moving. It doesn’t have to be strenuous or intense.
Simply going for a walk is therapeutic.
If there’s one thing depressed people don’t get much of, it’s sleep. Can you recall the last time you slept like a baby embraced in its mother’s bosom?
It’s no secret that insomnia is associated with depression. People with a mental disorder find it difficult to sleep the way people without psychological issues do. This is owing to various factors, including anxiety, despondent thoughts, and stress.
Research shows that exercise might be a “healthy, safe, inexpensive, and simple” way to snag a goodnight’s rest. If you’re tired of counting sheep or pumping melatonin pills, perhaps start a moderate exercise routine to feel better and get some rest.
Keeps Stress Under Control
What happens when stress takes a seat in your home? No doubt you feel worked up, tired, and overwhelmed. However, you may not realize the tenseness of your muscles. Your muscles “tense up” to react to stressors. This is your body’s way of fighting back to prevent damage.
The more stress encountered, the tenser your muscles become.
While the psychological benefits of exercise are obvious, a good workout routine relaxes tense muscles. This eases pain caused by muscle tension and enhances fluidity. You feel less stuck and more flexible.
Also, physical activity slashes the production of stress hormones, adrenaline, and cortisol. This reduction mitigates stress levels.
How well do you focus with a mental disorder?
Not well, right?
A lack of focus or attention to detail is common in psychological disorders. This makes it difficult to sit still or commit to creative tasks. Symptoms of a lack of focus also include an inability to recollect important details and to think with clarity.
When you engage in endurance exercise, your brain goes through somewhat of a remodelling process. It’s inspired to sprout new nerves and supports brain performance, which promotes learning.
Also, an area central to the autonomous nervous system, the hippocampus, enlarges with exercise. It plays a role in learning and memory, and is said to improve cognitive function through aerobic exercise.
If you have a boatload of work to get done and need to concentrate, exercising is a great way to kick things off.
There’s no denying that regular exercise, over a period, augments physical stamina and encourages more physical activities.
But what about mental stamina?
With more exercise, you’re energized mentally. This is because physical activity improves brain function. Since a gloomy face crushes the heart and makes it difficult to get stuff done, exercise helps to reshape how your brain works by releasing hormones to make you feel good.
When you’re in high spirits, you’re motivated to conquer the world and complete all the things you’ve set your heart on doing.
This is something I’ve experienced personally.
As someone who struggled with excessive daytime sleepiness, I’d lose focus and fall asleep around midday. This affected my work ethic.
After working into an exercise routine, between 15 to 20 minutes each day, I felt motivated to get stuff done and instead of falling asleep, I was alert and attentive.
If you need a pick-me-up on down days, how about exercising?
When Motivation to Exercise Flees
What if you don’t feel like exercising? Welcome to the club. While I’ve had to deal with an ocean of challenges throughout my lifetime, sticking to my exercise routine remains a thorn in the flesh.
I love a good workout program because of the effects of exercise on mental health. However, getting started (or sticking to it) isn’t easy. What can you do to cultivate the motivation you need to exercise? Here are my best tips.
- Work out with someone. How about onboarding help?
One of the greatest motivators I’ve found successful is establishing a routine with someone. You both can cheer each other on when things get overwhelming.
Since this pandemic makes it difficult to socialize with others that aren’t in your household, exercising via videoconferencing is a nifty option. Zoom is free for the first 40 minutes when you’re conferencing with a group. The last time I checked, it was unlimited with 1-on-1 calls. If you do organize a group and get disconnected, simply re-enter your login credentials and get back to work.
- Choose an exercise program. I can easily catch a beat working out to YouTube videos.
There are innumerable channels to workout with, like Walk at Home with Leslie Sansone. Her program is great if you’re an elderly person who’s simply looking to get physical and not wear yourself out.
TRX is also another option to consider. This isn’t the most ideal option for the elderly but is great for the young and middle-aged. TRX is a “powerful home gym tool” that supports suspension training. The company does have training online, so you can work out with trainers to boost mental clarity and ward off negative emotions.
- Select an exercise program that suits your personality. Some people will exercise by
simply jogging, swimming, or even committing to yoga. However, many prefer to hype things up with some good ol’ upbeat music. If you’re that person, you’ll enjoy Zumba. Zumba is a form of aerobic intervention that incorporates dance with dance music. It does get intense and some moves may be difficult, but you get to learn a new dance move (or two) in the process.
While exercise is important and should be added to your routine, try not to overdo it. The effects of exercise on mental health are countless, but more exercise isn’t always good. Moderation is the key to everything. To avoid getting discouraged and demotivated, start where you are. If you can only commit to 5 minutes each day, that’s better than not starting at all. Once you get the hang of things and your muscles start loosening up, you’ll be more confident. Take baby steps if you need to and go at your own pace.
Do you believe in the effects of exercise of mental health? Sound off in the comments section and let us know what routine you’ve been using (if any) and how it makes you feel. We love hearing success stories.