The Incredible Ways Exercise and Mental Health are Connected

Exercising has almost always been associated with physical health. It’s common knowledge that exercising will result in a fitter and healthier body. However, the benefits of exercise transcend beyond ‘looking good’ to ‘feeling good’.

Exercise and mental health are deeply connected. A recent study done by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that running for 15 minutes a day or walking for an hour reduces the risk of major depression by 26%!

Regular exercising for as little as 10 minutes a day can reduce anxiety, depression, and negative mood. It can also lessen the symptoms of social isolation and low self-esteem, both of which are associated with poor mental health.

4 Mental Benefits of Exercise

Here are four reasons why you should exercise for your mental health. Regular exercising can:
  1. Decrease Stress

    Whether you head to your gym or squeeze in quick workouts in your room using your home gym equipment, exercising will alleviate your stress levels. Studies show that exercising releases chemicals in the brain that will help moderate stress and improve cognitive function.

  2. Increase self-esteem

    Exercising will enhance your physical appearance and empower you to push through to achieve your fitness goals. This will boost your self-confidence and self-esteem. According to one study, there is a clear association between physical activity and self-esteem, which should be a good reason to squeeze in some physical activity everyday.

  3. Boost Happiness

    Exercise naturally releases ‘happy chemicals’, aka endorphins. These increase the feeling of happiness and reduce anxiety. Past studies have noted that physically active people have much lower risks of developing depression and anxiety than people who rarely move.

  4. Strengthen Personal Relationships

    People exercising together will develop deep interpersonal relationships. Being a part of the fitness community will have a positive impact on mental health.

Exercises to Boost your Mental Health

Making the following exercises a part of your daily life can boost your mental health tremendously:
  1. Cardio

    Cardio exercises are those which increase your heart rate. These exercises get you moving and sweating for a sustained time. This has a beneficial effect on the brain as endorphins are released.

    These endorphins act as a natural painkiller and reduce stress and anxiety. Just 30 minutes of cardio can greatly improve mental health.

    Cardio exercises include brisk walking, running, cycling, swimming, and boxing, to name a few. Choose your pick and get started.

  2. Yoga

    Yoga is perfect for those who aren’t fond of gym-intensive workouts. Yoga is a practice that focuses on achieving a mind-body connection. The gentle movement of yoga, the asanas (yoga poses), attention to breathing, meditation, and mindfulness work towards boosting mental health.

    When you do yoga, the brain cells develop new connections, which lead to structural and functional changes in the brain. This helps in relieving stress, improving mood, and combating anxiety.

    There are different styles of yoga for all stages of yoga practitioners. Choose the one that suits your needs and lifestyle.

  3. HIIT

    High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a form of cardio training that requires short bursts of high-intensity training. HIIT exercises are similar to other aerobic exercises, except they take less time due to the speed at which they are performed.

    This is perfect for those who prefer shorter workouts or cannot spare time due to work or other reasons. 10 – 20 minutes is all you need as a HIIT routine of that duration has the same benefits as a regular hour-long gym session. HIIT boosts mood and lowers stress.

  4. Strength or Resistance Training

    Strength or resistance training involves exercises that are designed to improve one’s endurance and strength. These exercises usually use weights such as dumbbells and kettlebells or resistance such as resistance bands. These exercises are generally associated with physical aspects as they make the body lean and muscular. However, strength training has a positive impact on one’s mental health too.

    Studies have shown that strength training reduces depressive symptoms, anxiety and boosts overall well-being. It also improves focus, beats insomnia, and increases self-esteem – all of which, in turn, boost mental health.

  5. Dancing

    Not fond of yoga or any of the exercises mentioned above because they seem too intense or boring? Worry not, as there’s one activity that will get your body moving while being a ton of fun – dancing.

    Whether you choose to take a structured dance class or just blast some music at home and dance, you will walk away feeling much better.

    Dancing boosts your heart rate, works your muscles, and releases ‘good chemicals’ dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins. This helps improve mental and emotional health by reducing stress and decreasing the symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Miscellaneous tip

Done exercising? Great. Now, follow it up with the most important thing – Rest

A ‘rest day’ is highly underrated. Resting isn’t just important to repair sore muscles, but it’s vital for better mental health.

A day or two of rest improves cognitive function, boosts the immune system, improves mood, and gives you time off to recharge mentally.

Working relentlessly may seem productive initially, but over time it can cause extreme stress and burnout. Prioritising rest is essential for mental health.

Get Moving for a Healthy Brain

The best part of exercising is that you don’t have to stick to just one type of physical exercise. You can plan a schedule where you mix up different exercises over the week to keep it fun and interesting. However, you must do it consistently to achieve long-term mental health benefits.

It’s great to ‘look good’, but the real magic happens when you ‘feel good’ too! So, get moving, start exercising and watch your mood and mental health elevate.