Mental Health Benefits of Exercise

We have combined our knowledge of exercise and psychology to highlight the benefits of this combination here.  We honor those fighting this aspect of their daily lives, and hope that this can provide you with a great sense of ease regarding the possibilities.

Most people know that exercise is good for their body as a whole.  While there are significant physical benefits, people who exercise regularly typically do so because it gives them an amazing sense of overall health and well being.

In other words, the mental health benefits of exercise are just as vast as the physical.  While you are trimming your waistline, managing your blood pressure, reducing risk of chronic disease, and even adding years to your life- you are also boosting your mood, increasing energy, improving memory, and sleeping better!

If you still need motivation to get going, here are five mental health benefits that will have you yearning to get your groove back by getting moving.

Decreased Stress
Did you ever notice how your body feels when you are experiencing stress?  Tense muscles, chest tightness, increased heart rate, upset stomach.  These physical symptoms of stress can then cause more mental anguish, creating a vicious cycle between your mind and body.  Most people have had some type of stress in their life and can relate, but some have it much more frequently than others.

Exercise is an effective way to interrupt the stress induced cycle, creating a healthier shift for both mind and body.  Engaging in physical activity helps force the body’s reaction to break the flow of negative stress energy and relax muscle tension.   You will physically feel better!  And when your body feels better, your mind will, too.  You will have more focus and attention that allows you to attack the stressful situation with a healthier perspective.

Improved Depression and Anxiety
While feeling depressed can make you feel like you don’t have motivation or energy to work out, it is important to remember that you can start with something very simple and small.  It’s the ‘do something’ rule.  Sit on your porch for five minutes, go up and down the stairs three times, go outside and get the mail every day.  Or it can be to walk around the neighborhood with the dog.  Whatever your preference, once you ‘do something’, you will find that it was satisfying both physically and mentally, and you will feel the urge to add something else to your day.

Anxiety is much of the same.  It can be overwhelming to think of going to a gym, for example.  How do I find one?  How much does it cost?  What if someone sees me?  But if you start with something small and stay consistent, you will find new ways to relax, breathe, focus, and be mindful in situations that may have previously been more challenging.

We recommend yoga for mindfulness and stretching or massage for muscle tension as a great place to start.  Your mind-body connection will thank you! 

Increased Self Esteem and Self Confidence
When you are engaging in regular physical activity, you are not only committing time to yourself, but you are fostering your overall wellness and improving your health.  Believing in yourself if your most powerful tool, and you will feel a great sense of accomplishment.

You will notice that your clothes fit better, you have more energy, you want to do your hair different and you’re feeling a little sexier.  You will have that extra pep in your step, no doubt!  You will find yourself inhaling self confidence and exhaling doubt, fear, and anxiety.  THIS is happy mental health.

Better Sleep
Even short amounts of exercise can help aid in your sleep patterns, making for a more restful night.  While it is not recommended to do high intensity activity before planning to go to bed, you could plan for this earlier in your day or complete yoga or other stretching to promote calmness and sleep. 

Brain and Memory Boost
Building intelligence, strengthening memory, and developing resilient coping strategies are only a few ways that exercise can help improve your overall brain function.   Additional brain benefits resulting from physical exercise or activity include creativity, alertness, and the ability to focus.


Other helpful hints for kick starting your journey:

  • Be comfortable. Wear clothing that you like and find a setting that is calming and inviting for you.
  • Find an activity that you enjoy. If a treadmill isn’t your thing, go to a home improvement store and walk through the tools or flowers section- for example.  Get out and do gardening or go hiking if you like nature.
  • Schedule your time. Be respectful to your mind and body, plan exercise into your day and then stick to it.  Be creative with your day or slide this into your work shift.  You'll be so glad you did!
  • Consider socializing. Many people are motivated by others, you can choose a group class or even an online forum.  Find other people to share your stories with and make friends with those who have similar goals.
  • Discuss with your family and friends. When you are ready, let them know your intentions and explain the importance.  This will help them support you at being your best.
  • Discuss with your care team.  Chat with your physician or other trusted medical professional to explore ideas that are safe and effective for you.  
  • Have fun and be creative.  Explore something that you have always wanted to try!  Listen to your favorite music or podcast.  


Overcoming Obstacles

When is comes to exercise, just the thought can almost paralyze some people, especially if you have challenges with mental health.  While getting started is often the most difficult aspect, these few ideas may help you overcome some common obstacles.

Feeling tired.
If you are feeling exhausted, it may seem that exercising will only make it worse.  But the truth is that physical activity is a powerful energizer and can dramatically reduce your levels of fatigue.

Feeling pain.
Any chronic or intermittent pain such as arthritis can be scary.  Always talk with your physician about which exercises, activities, or program will be best for you.  There are many modifications for exercises that can give you optimal success.  You can also choose something with low impact, shorter duration, or perhaps in the water to help reduce joint or muscle discomfort.

Feeling overwhelmed.
Start with something small if needed.  Give yourself a little reward for completing the task.  Stay consistent and positive that you can accomplish your goals!

Exercise is a win, win.  You will make happier, healthier moments into memories and feel better- physically and mentally- than ever before!


October 10, 2022 — lori glassbrenner