Mental health is increasingly being recognized as just important as physical health. Whether you are suffering from depression, anxiety, panic disorder, PTSD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder or any number of other afflictions, it can be a scary time full of instability, frustration and lack of answers. Common mental health treatment options include therapy, medication, meditation, and more. However, there is one thing that is often overlooked yet is a very powerful method to alleviate the symptoms of many mental health conditions: exercise.
The first big reason that exercise helps with mental health is that it reduces stress. Generally high stress levels don’t necessarily cause mental illness but they do add up and increase the chances of developing common mental health problems like depression and anxiety. Going for a run, walk, workout or yoga may seem cliché but it can make a big difference.¹
Improves Depression And Anxiety
Exercise has been proven to improve mood and alleviate anxiety. When you work out or exercise for a while your brain starts releasing endorphins which essentially give you feelings of wellbeing, achievement and success. There is no need to spend the whole day on a treadmill or run a marathon, even some light exercise daily for 20 to 30 minutes can make a world of difference to your mood and anxiety levels.¹
Better Sleep Means Better Mental Health
With exercise you will find that many sleep issues begin to disappear or improve significantly. When you work out your body’s natural circadian rhythm becomes regularized and sleep starts to come more easily in many cases. As you get better, more restful sleep, your mental wellbeing is likely to notice some improvement as well as your energy levels and focus.¹
Interrupt The Negative Self-Talk
Another major plus of exercise in terms of mental wellbeing is that exercise gets you “out of your head.” In many cases negative self-talk can be an aggravating and almost constant presence, particularly for those of us who have struggled with mental health. Going for a run or lifting some weights puts you in an action-oriented mode and interrupts the flow of negative self-talk that can crowd in otherwise. This is even more the case if your exercise takes you across the path of others for a brief chat or even a wave hello or a nod to the cashier at the Starbucks after your workout.²
None of us are ever going to be 100 percent emotionally stable, but exercise has been consistently found to increase emotional stability and the ability to regulate and control outbursts of anger, frustration, sadness or fear. When you work out and exercise you begin to gain back some control and this can often translate over into the ability to regulate your emotions and mind in a healthy way.³
How Much Exercise Do You Need?
In general, exercise is a matter of your personal situation, schedule and energy level. However the optimal amount to start noticing considerable mental health benefits is about 45 minutes to an hour. Half of that can still make a noticeable difference but going for just a bit longer will be optimal.⁴
If you need some social buzz to keep you motivated, that shouldn’t be a problem. Look around for yoga or fitness classes in your area, groups to join for jogging, biking clubs, sports leagues that you can participate in or drop-in fitness classes. There are plenty of options for individual and group exercises, and both will lead to significant physical and mental health benefits.
Before you begin any new high intensity exercise programs, just make sure to check with your doctor first to make sure you have no conditions that it may aggravate. While exercise is one of the healthiest activities out there, it’s still good to make sure you’re doing it within safe limits.