Of course we all know moving, stretching, strength training and increasing cardio vascular fitness is essential to a healthy body. Exercise benefits the entire body, aids in most every medical condition, and is even essential to brain function.
But did you realize that exercise also maintains your mental health?
Sure, exercise can help you shed pounds, get firm abs and lean legs, and even add years to your life. But another huge benefit is the sense of well-being and calm it provides. Those who exercise regularly know they have more daytime energy and focus, they feel more relaxed and happier about their lives and they sleep more soundly. These are all factors that play into your mental health and the common mental health challenges everyone can face at some time in their lives.
Regular exercise has a profoundly positive impact on depression and anxiety. Studies show that exercise can treat mild to moderate depression as effectively as antidepressant medication, without the side-effects. In a recent study, 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%. And it can prevent someone from relapsing back into depression as well.
Exercise is a natural and effective anti-anxiety treatment. It can relieve tension and stress, boosts physical and mental energy and enhances well-being through the release of endorphins. When you make it mindful and really tune in to what you’re feeling in the moment you’ll get an even bigger benefit. Practice noticing the sensation of your feet hitting the ground, the wind on your skin, and the rhythm of your breathing, and you may notice your worries vanishing.
Stress can manifest itself in our bodies through a tight neck, back and shoulders and tension headaches. You may even feel tightness in your chest, muscle cramps and pounding pulse, or even insomnia, heartburn, stomachache diarrhea and frequent urination. Your worry can create a vicious cycle between your mind and body. Exercise can effectively break this cycle and release endorphins in the brain so your muscles relax and you can unwind to feel better.
Exercising regularly is one of the easiest ways to reduce ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) symptoms and improve concentration, memory, motivation and mood. Physical activity immediately boosts dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin levels, all of which affect focus and attention, and work in much the way medications like Adderall and Ritalin do.
Evidence suggests that by really focusing on your body and how it feels as you exercise, you can actually help your nervous system get “unstuck” and begin to move out of the paralyzing stress response of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Really paying attention to your movement and how it feels in your muscles and joints can help. Exercises involving cross movement of both arms and legs – walking, running, swimming, weight training and dancing – are best choices. Outdoor activities like hiking, sailing, mountain biking, skiing and whitewater rafting have also been shown to reduce PTDS symptoms.
A host of other exercise benefits
Even if you don't have specific mental health issues, regular exercise can boost your mood and mental well-being. You’ll also get these perks:
· Sharper memory and clearer thinking. Exercise stimulates the growth of new brain cells and helps age-related decline. And those endorphins released when you exercise help your concentration.
· Higher self-esteem. When you make exercise a habit, and realize your goals, you’ll feel more strong and powerful.
· Better sleep. Even short bursts of exercise in the morning and afternoon can help regulate your sleep patterns. Relaxing exercise, like yoga, at night can promote sleep.
· More energy. Increasing your heart rate several times a week will energize you. Start off with a few minutes of exercise a day, and increase your workout as you feel more energy.
· Stronger resilience. Exercise can help you cope with and face mental and emotional challenges in a healthy way. It can also help boost your immune system.
· Increased metabolic rate. Unfortunately, with more tech use and screens occupying our attention nearly 24/7, we sit more than we did in the past. This is detrimental to your health, so it’s very important to get 20-30 minutes of exercise each day to keep to a healthy weight. This doesn’t mean you have to go to the gym – simply walking will give you benefits.
I’d love to work with you to help create an exercise plan to enhance your well-being and mental health! You can call me at 720-320-4212, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule an appointment.
Here’s to your best health!
Dr. Trish PT, DPT