Benefits of Exercise & Mental Health

We all know that exercise is good for the body, but did you know that it is also one of the most effective ways to improve your mental health?

Regular exercise can have a profoundly positive impact on depression, anxiety, ADHD, and more. It relieves stress, improves memory, helps you sleep better, and boosts overall mood.

And you don’t have to be a fitness fanatic to reap the benefits: research indicates that modest amounts of exercise can make a difference.

So, what are the mental health benefits of exercise?

Exercise is not just about aerobic capacity and muscle size. Sure, exercise can improve your physical health and your physique, trim your waistline, improve your sex life, and even add years to your life. But that’s not what motivates most people to stay active.

People who exercise regularly tend to do so because it gives them an enormous sense of well-being. They feel more energetic throughout the day, sleep better at night, have sharper memories, and feel more relaxed and positive about themselves and their lives. And it’s also powerful medicine for many common mental health challenges.

Exercise and . . .

DEPRESSION

Studies show that exercise can treat mild to moderate depression as effectively as antidepressant medication—but without the side-effects, of course. In addition to relieving depression symptoms, research also shows that maintaining an exercise schedule can prevent you from relapsing; exercise can also serve as a distraction, allowing you to find some quiet time to break out of the cycle of negative thoughts that feed depression.

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STRESS

Ever noticed how your body feels when you’re under stress? Your muscles may be tense, especially in your face, neck, and shoulders, leaving you with back or neck pain, or painful headaches or you may feel a tightness in your chest, a pounding pulse, or muscle cramps, and it is the worry and discomfort of all these physical symptoms that can in turn lead to even more stress, creating a vicious cycle between your mind and body.

Exercising is an effective way to break this cycle. As well as releasing endorphins in the brain, physical activity helps to relax the muscles and relieve tension in the body. Since the body and mind are so closely linked, when your body feels better so, too, will your mind.

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PTSD & TRAUMA

Evidence suggests that by really focusing on your body and how it feels as you exercise, you can actually help your nervous system become “unstuck” and begin to move out of the immobilization stress response that characterizes PTSD or trauma.

Instead of thinking about other things, pay close attention to the physical sensations in your joints and muscles, even your insides as your body moves.

Exercises that involve cross movement and that engage both arms and legs, such as walking (especially in sand), running, swimming, weight training, or dancing are some of your best choices.

Outdoor activities like hiking, sailing, mountain biking, rock climbing, white-water rafting, and skiing (downhill and cross-country) have also been shown to reduce the symptoms of PTSD.

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ANXIETY

Exercise is a natural and effective anti-anxiety treatment, relieving tension and stress, boosting physical and mental energy, and enhancing well-being through the release of endorphins. Anything that gets you moving can help, but you’ll get a bigger benefit if you pay attention the sensation of your feet hitting the ground, for example, instead of zoning out. By adding this mindfulness element—really focusing on your body and how it feels as you exercise—you’ll not only improve your physical condition faster, but you may also be able to interrupt the flow of constant worries running through your head.

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ADHD

Exercising regularly is one of the easiest and most effective ways to reduce the symptoms of ADHD and improve concentration, motivation, memory, and mood; physical activity immediately boosts the brain’s dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels, all of which affect focus and attention.

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OTHER MENTAL & EMOTIONAL BENEFITS OF EXERCISE

  • Sharper memory and thinking
  • Higher self-esteem
  • Better sleep
  • More energy
  • Stronger resilience
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Here are some common barriers and what you can do to get past them.

  • Feeling exhausted. When you’re tired or stressed, it feels like working out will just make it worse. But the truth is that physical activity is a powerful energizer. Studies show that regular exercise can dramatically reduce fatigue and increase your energy levels.
  • If you are really feeling tired, promise yourself a 5-minute walk. Chances are you’ll be able to go five more minutes.
  • Feeling overwhelmed. When you’re stressed or depressed, the thought of adding another obligation can seem overwhelming. Working out just doesn’t seem doable.
  • If you have children, managing childcare while you exercise can be a big hurdle. Just remember that physical activity helps us do everything else better.
  • If you begin thinking of physical activity as a priority, you will soon find ways to fit small amounts in a busy schedule.
  • Feeling hopeless. Even if you’re starting at “ground zero,” you can still workout. Exercise helps you get in shape.
  • If you have no experience exercising, start slow with low-impact movement a few minutes each day.
  • Feeling pain. If you have a disability, severe weight problem, arthritis, or any injury or illness that limits your mobility, talk to your healthcare provider about ways to safely exercise.
  • You shouldn’t ignore pain, but rather do what you can, when you can. Divide your exercise into shorter, more frequent chunks of time if that helps, or try exercising in water to reduce joint or muscle discomfort.
  • Feeling bad about yourself. Are you your own worst critic? It’s time to try a new way of thinking about your body. No matter what your weight, age or fitness level, there are others like you with the goals of getting fit.
  • Try surrounding yourself with people in your shoes. Take a class with people at a variety of fitness levels. Accomplishing even the smallest fitness goals will help you gain body confidence.

So, how much exercise do you need to be taking?

Reaping the mental health benefits of exercise is easier than you think – you don’t need to devote hours out of your busy day, train at the gym, sweat buckets, or run mile after monotonous mile.
You can reap all the physical and mental health benefits of exercise with 30-minutes of moderate exercise five times a week. Two 15-minute or even three 10-minute exercise sessions can also work just as well.

Even a little bit of activity is better than nothing; if you don’t have time for 15 or 30 minutes of exercise, or if your body tells you to take a break after 5 or 10 minutes, for example, that’s okay, too. Start with 5- or 10-minute sessions and slowly increase your time.

The more you exercise, the more energy you’ll have, so eventually you’ll feel ready for a little more. The key is to commit to do some moderate physical activity however little on most days.

As exercising becomes habit, you can slowly add extra minutes or try different types of activities. If you keep at it, the benefits of exercise will begin to pay off.

Can’t find time to exercise during the week? Be a weekend warrior

You don’t have to suffer to get results

Research shows that moderate levels of exercise are best for most people.
Moderate means:
▪️That you breathe a little heavier than normal, but are not out of breath. For example, you should be able to chat with your walking partner, but not easily sing a song.
▪️That your body feels warmer as you move, but not overheated or very sweaty.

Overcoming mental health obstacles to exercise

So now you know that exercise will help you feel much better and that it doesn’t take as much effort as you might have thought. But taking that first step is still easier said than done.
Exercise obstacles are very real particularly when you’re also struggling with mental health.

Getting started exercising when you’re anxious or depressed

Many of us find it hard enough to motivate ourselves to exercise at the best of times. When we feel depressed, anxious, stressed or have other mental or emotional problems, it can be doubly difficult.

This is especially true of depression and anxiety, and it can leave you feeling trapped in a catch-22 situation. You know exercise will make you feel better, but depression has robbed you of the energy and motivation you need to exercise, or your social anxiety means you can’t bear the thought of being seen at an exercise class or running through the park.

SO WHAT CAN YOU DO?

We offer a wide range of services at Elite Fitness. From fitness classes, to Personal Training, to open gym 7 days a week.
We are so sure you’ll love our facility, we offer a FREE 7-day trial.

01724 841 327

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