The Exercise-Mental Health Connection
Many of you are likely aware of the numerous physical health benefits associated with regular exercise, such as an improved fitness level, stronger muscles and bones, improved blood pressure and chronic disease prevention and management. However, did you know that moving your muscles has also been shown to improve mental health?
How are exercise and mental health related?
We often talk about the mind and body as though they are completely separate – but they aren’t. There is a strong connection between the mind and body. In fact, the mind can’t function unless your body is working properly, and the opposite is also true. The state of your mind affects your body.
What are the mental health benefits of exercise?
There is no shortage of mental health benefits of exercise. Regular exercise helps reduce stress, boost happy chemicals, improve sleep, prevent cognitive decline, alleviate anxiety, boost brain performance, sharpen memory, control addiction, increase relaxation, and improve productivity and creativity. Considering this and the many physical benefits of exercise, everyone can gain something from moving their bodies more often!
Physical activity is also important in the recovery and management of symptoms for those living with a mental illness. Through exercise, they are able to gain additional health benefits (which are especially important for those living with a severe mental illness as they are at a higher risk for poor health and a higher rate of disease), improve their cognitive functioning, build a stronger self-esteem, improve their social skills and reduce isolation.
The exercise-mental health connection is especially beneficial for stress reduction, depression and anxiety. Research has shown that physical activity is one of the most effective ways to improve these symptoms. In fact, exercise can treat mild to moderate depression as effectively as antidepressant medications – but without the side effects.
How can you become more motivated to exercise?
Take a moment to think about how you feel after being active (e.g. going for a walk, gardening, going to the gym, playing baseball, etc.). You may feel energized, refreshed, happy or less stressed, for example. Those are a few common responses that you feel immediately after (sometimes even while) participating in physical activity.
Those positive feelings and that sense of well-being are the main reason why individuals choose to exercise regularly. In other words, it’s not the action of exercising that keeps individuals motivated to exercise, it’s the positive feelings and responses they have afterwards (e.g. more energy throughout the day, better sleep, feeling more relaxed) that helps keep them on track with their physical activity goals.
The most important thing to remember when it comes to staying motivated to exercise is to participate in the types of activities you enjoy! This will make exercising more pleasurable and won’t make it seem like a chore or some form of torture.
How much time do you need to spend exercising to reap the mental health benefits?
Reaping the mental health benefits of exercise is easier than you may think. You don’t need to spend hours exercising on a daily basis to get the mental health boost you’re looking for. Participating in 30 to 60 minutes of moderate exercise three to five times per week will help you reap all of the mental and physical benefits of physical activity. Remember that you can split up your exercise into 10 minute sessions if that helps you fit physical activity in your lifestyle. For added benefits, consider adding muscle and bone strengthening activities at least twice per week.
Completing that many minutes of physical activity may seem overwhelming at first. However, the good news is that any amount and any kind of physical activity can help! As mentioned above, what’s important is that you’re enjoying the type of physical activity in which you are participating. Once you choose an activity you enjoy, you can start slowly and work your way up. Try increasing your exercise minutes or exercise intensity as your fitness level improves!
The more you exercise the more energy you will have, so eventually you’ll feel ready for a little bit more. The key is to commit to do some physical activity on most days of the week. As exercising becomes a habit, you can slowly add extra minutes or try different types of activities.
Adopting an active lifestyle has so many benefits! Consider trying it out and noticing the positive effects on your physical and mental health. If you want some help getting started, call the Marathon Family Health Team at 229-3243 to book an exercise counselling appointment.
Take a look at the following article on the ParticipACTION website to learn more about the connection between exercise and happiness: https://www.participaction.com/en-ca/peptalk/lifestyle-culture/why-physical-activity-is-the-secret-to-happiness