Understanding the Link Between Physical Exercise and Improved Mental Health


Erica Schultz

The past few years have taken a toll on the mental health of millions around the world. Whether it’s dealing with pandemic fallout or fears of a recession, stress and anxiety seem especially high these days. With that increase in worry, individuals are searching for help. People spend millions of dollars annually in the pursuit of better mental health. What if there were a way to improve mental health that cost little to no money at all?

Luckily, there is. One phenomenal method of reducing anxiety is simply getting up, getting out, and moving around. Physical exercise is a great step toward unlocking chemicals in your body that can help fight stress, anxiety, and even depression. How does exercise help with mental health, and what are some practical ways to incorporate it into your daily routine? Read on to find out.

How Exercise Helps You Feel Better​

Endorphins, hormones released by the brain and pituitary gland, are natural painkillers. Your body releases these chemicals as a response to pain and stress to make you feel better. Meditation, laughter, and sexual activity are all effective ways to release endorphins into your body. One of the best means of doing this, however, is through moderate physical activities like exercise.

Even patients who have sought anxiety treatment online to fight feelings of stress will find exercise a helpful complement to medication. Studies have shown exercise to be one of the most effective methods of combating worry and anxiousness. This doesn’t have to mean an overly strenuous workout, either. Taking a walk around the neighborhood releases endorphins and enhances your mood. Consider starting with some simple exercise routines, and you may be surprised by how well you feel afterward.

How Exercise Helps You Sleep Better​

Releasing hormones that make you feel better isn’t the only way exercise benefits mental health. Exercise also helps you to get better sleep, which is a massive contributing factor to reducing stress. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine advises adults to sleep a minimum of seven hours each night. When you don’t get enough sleep, you are less emotionally resilient and more poorly equipped to deal with daily challenges. Even the healthiest people suffer when they don’t get adequate rest.

But how exactly does regular physical exercise during the day help you get better rest at night? Research shows physical activity affects a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is released in times of high stress. Getting exercise lowers your cortisol levels, helping you feel less stressed and enabling better sleep in the evenings. Physical exercise also helps you fall asleep more quickly and maintain a consistent circadian rhythm, facilitating healthy rest patterns.

How Exercise Helps You Focus Better​

Anxiety and stress have numerous negative effects on the body, including impairing your focus and concentration. Fear and worry can distract you from the daily tasks that need to be done. When you experience stress, your mental capacity is consumed with that stressor, and you’re unable to put energy toward other things. When left untreated, stress and anxiety can lead to an increase in forgetfulness and poor judgment.

The CDC says 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week can improve thinking, learning, and problem-solving. Exercise increases an essential protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which is beneficial to learning and memory. Physical activity also increases blood flow to the brain, resulting in better cognition. Another huge benefit to exercise: Studies show regular exercise can reduce a person’s risk of getting dementia by 30%.

How Exercise Makes Overall Mental Health Better​

Some people deal with other mental health issues that are exacerbated by stress. Most notably, high levels of worry and anxiety can lead to severe forms of depression when left untreated. Clinical studies show that regular physical exercise promotes neuron growth, which can help relieve symptoms related to depression.

Many people begin exercising in an effort to lose weight or simply get more physically fit. This affects mental health as well by increasing confidence and, as previously discussed, being a mood booster. It’s worth noting that getting out and moving around more can lead to more social interactions. Combating loneliness through spending time with others is an excellent way to improve mental health.

How You Should Exercise​

How you begin your physical exercise routine is largely dependent upon what your body can handle. If you live a mostly sedentary lifestyle, you’ll want to ease slowly into physical exercise. Light stretching and relaxed walks outside are great first steps. Gradually increase the time you spend walking each week. You might also consider beginning yoga as a method to get into exercise mindfully.

If you’re relatively fit, you can embrace a more strenuous exercise routine. Try brisk power walks or jogs of more than 30 minutes. Lifting weights using dumbbells or a kettlebell will strengthen muscles and boost your metabolism. Aerobic workouts like running, cycling, or swimming will do wonders for your body and brain. Experiment with various forms of exercise until you find one or more that work for you.

Millions of people around the world struggle with stress and anxiety. If you deal with even mild forms of either, exercising is an excellent way to start feeling better. The immediate and long-term benefits of physical activity are undeniable. So get up and get moving! Your mind will be all the better when you do.

M&F and editorial staff were not involved in the creation of this content.

Continue reading...