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The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise

You already know that exercise is good for your body. But did you know it can also boost your mood, improve your sleep, and help you deal with depression, anxiety, stress, and more?

Exercise is a great way to improve your overall health and well-being, so if you’re feeling down or stressed out, go for a run, go to the gym, or take a yoga class. You’ll feel better in no time!

What are the mental health benefits of exercise?

Most people don’t exercise just to improve their physical health – although that is certainly a benefit. Exercise has also been shown to improve mental health, giving people a sense of well-being, more energy, better sleep, and sharper memories.

It can also help with common mental health challenges such as anxiety and depression. So if you’re looking for a way to improve your overall health, consider adding exercise to your routine!

Exercise isn’t just about being physically healthy and fit – though of course, those are important benefits. Exercise also does wonders for your mental health, making you feel more energetic and positive, improving your sleep, and sharpening your memory. It’s also a powerful tool for combating common mental health challenges. So if you’re looking for a way to boost your mood and your overall sense of well-being, get moving!

Exercise and depression

Exercise is a great way to treat depression, and it doesn’t come with the same side-effects as antidepressant medication. 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 can reduce the risk of major depression by 26%. In addition to treating depression symptoms, exercise can also help prevent relapse.

Exercise is a powerful way to combat depression for several reasons. First, it helps promote brain growth and activity patterns that promote feelings of calm and well-being. Second, it releases endorphins, which are powerful chemicals that can boost your mood and make you feel good.

Finally, exercise can also serve as a distraction from negative thoughts, providing you with some quiet time to break out of the depression cycle.

Exercise and anxiety

Exercise is one of the most natural and effective ways to combat anxiety. It helps to relieve tension and stress, boosts physical and mental energy, and can enhance your overall well-being by releasing endorphins.

Anything that gets you moving can help, but you’ll get an even bigger benefit if you focus your attention on what you’re doing instead of letting your mind wander. Try to notice the sensation of your feet hitting the ground, for example, or the rhythm of your breathing, or the feeling of the wind on your skin. Paying attention to these things can help to ground you in the present moment and ease anxiety.

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Exercise and 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.

You may feel a tightness in your chest, a pounding pulse, or muscle cramps. You may also experience problems such as insomnia, heartburn, stomachache, diarrhea, or frequent urination.

The worry and discomfort of all these physical symptoms can in turn lead to even more stress, creating a vicious cycle between your mind and body. To break this cycle, it is important to find healthy coping mechanisms for when you’re feeling overwhelmed so that you can manage your stress in a way that is productive and doesn’t take a toll on your physical health.

Exercising is a great way to break out of the stress cycle. Not only does it release endorphins in the brain, but it also 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, your mind will feel better too.

Exercise and ADHD

Regular exercise is one of the 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 which all play a role in focus and attention. In other words, exercise provides many of the same benefits as medications like Ritalin and Adderall.

Exercise and PTSD and trauma

There is evidence to suggest that by focusing on your body and how it feels during exercise, you can help your nervous system “unstick” and begin to move out of the immobilization stress response that characterizes PTSD or trauma.

Instead of letting your mind wander, 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.

Other mental health benefits of exercise

Regular physical activity can improve your mood, outlook, and mental well-being – even if you don’t suffer from a mental health problem. Exercise can help provide: Sharper memory and thinking.

The same endorphins that make you feel better also help you concentrate and feel mentally sharp for tasks at hand. Exercise also stimulates the growth of new brain cells and helps prevent age-related decline.

Exercise can help improve your sleep patterns, give you more energy, and make you more resilient to mental and emotional challenges. Even short bursts of exercise in the morning or afternoon can make a difference. If you prefer to exercise at night, relaxing exercises such as yoga or gentle stretching can help promote sleep.

Start off with just a few minutes of exercise per day, and increase your workout as you feel more energized. When faced with difficulties, exercise can help you build resilience and cope in a healthy way.

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Reaping the mental health benefits of exercise is easier than you think

Although it’s commonly believed that in order to gain the benefits of exercise, one has to dedicate long hours at the gym or go for runs that last miles on end, this isn’t the case! Just 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times a week is really all that’s needed – and even that can be broken down into shorter sessions if that’s more manageable for you.

So if you’re looking to improve your physical and mental health without having to commit to hours-long workout sessions, know that moderate exercise a few times a week is the key!

Even a little bit of activity is better than nothing

It’s okay if you can’t commit to a full 15 or 30 minutes of exercise at first. If your body is telling you to take a break after just 5 or 10 minutes, then listen to it! Start with shorter sessions and gradually increase your time as you get more used to it. Remember that the more you exercise, the more energy you’ll have in the long run. So if you keep at it, eventually you’ll feel ready for more. The key is to commit to some moderate physical activity on most days. As exercising becomes a habit, you can slowly add extra minutes or try different types of activities. If you stick with it, the benefits of exercise will start to pay off!

Getting started with exercise when you have a mental health issue

It can be difficult enough to motivate yourself to exercise when you’re feeling good. But when you’re dealing with depression, anxiety, stress, or another mental health issue, it can seem impossible.

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

It’s often best to start small when you’re trying to ease your way back into a workout routine after a long period of inactivity. If you’re struggling with anxiety or depression, setting large goals like running a marathon or working out for an hour every morning could lead to disappointment if you can’t meet those goals. Instead, set realistic goals that you can build up from over time.


Schedule your workouts for when you know you’ll have the most energy. This might be first thing in the morning, before work or school, or at lunchtime before you start feeling tired in the afternoon.

A great way to get started with becoming more active is to focus on activities that you enjoy. Any activity that gets you moving and active counts, whether it’s something like throwing a Frisbee with a dog or friend, walking around the mall, or cycling to the grocery store. If you’re unsure of what kinds of activities you might enjoy, try a few different things until you find something that suits you.

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Additionally, activities such as gardening or working on home improvement projects can be great ways to start becoming more active when you have a mood disorder. Not only will they help you become more active, but they can also leave you with a sense of purpose and accomplishment.

Make sure you’re comfortable before you start working out. Choose clothes that won’t restrict your movement and pick a location that you find calming or energizing.

This could be a quiet spot in your house, a picturesque trail, or your favorite city park. And don’t forget to reward yourself afterwards! The satisfaction of completing an activity is its own reward, but it doesn’t hurt to have something to look forward to as well. Treat yourself to a relaxing bubble bath, a delicious smoothie, or an extra episode of your favorite TV show after a job well done.

Make sure you’re comfortable before you get started. Whether that means wearing your favorite athleisure or choosing a setting that motivates you, being comfortable in both your clothing and your surroundings will help you get the most out of your workout.

And don’t forget to treat yourself afterwards! Rewarding yourself for a job well done is a great way to help maintain your motivation. So whether it’s a post-workout smoothie or an extra half hour of binge-watching, find something that you can look forward to as a reward for completing your activity.

Easy ways to move more that don’t involve the gym

Don’t worry if you can’t seem to find the time to commit to a thirty-minute yoga session or a bike ride; look at physical activity as a lifestyle rather than just another item on your to-do list. Consider ways that you can sneak in some movement throughout your day, no matter where you are or what you’re doing.

For example, when you’re cleaning the house, washing the car, or taking care of the yard, think about ways that you can move your body more. For instance, you could mow the lawn with a push mower, sweep the sidewalk or patio with a broom, or tend to your garden.

Incorporate physical activity into your daily routine, even if you’re at work or on the go. Bike or walk to an appointment instead of driving, use stairs instead of elevators, briskly walk to the bus stop then get off one stop early, park at the back of the lot and walk into the store or office, or take a vigorous walk during your coffee break. Make family time active time too.

Jog around the soccer field during your kid’s practice, make a neighborhood bike ride part of your weekend routine, play tag with your children in the yard, go canoeing at a lake, or walk the dog in a new place. Not only will this quality time spent together be beneficial for your physical health, but it will also be good for your mental and emotional wellbeing too!

Make exercise a fun part of your everyday life

You don’t have to spend hours in a gym or force yourself into long, monotonous workouts to experience the many benefits of exercise. It’s all about finding activities you enjoy so that you can look better, feel better, and get more out of life. Here are some tips to help you get started:

  • -Take a dance class -Join a sports team
  •  -Start a walking group with friends
  • -Go for hikes in your local area
  • -Check out yoga or pilates classes

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