With the mental health crisis on the rise, looking for healthy ways to combat depression and anxiety is necessary in today’s world. There are a number of things that need to be considered, but exercise has been proven time and time again to have tremendous benefits. The mind and body are intricately connected, so what you do for the body directly affects the mind, and what you do for the mind directly affects the body.
Many studies have been conducted to see the effects of exercise on mental health and in this study, 194 people over the age of 18 were followed. They found that those who exercised on a regular basis reported 43% less bad mental health days per month than those that didn’t exercise with the largest percentage going to team sports. That’s an impressive number of better days, which means that exercise can’t be ignored when it comes to mental health.
So what exercises are the best? Let’s take a look.
Running or Walking
If you’ve ever experienced the “runners high” you know the euphoric feeling you get when you accomplish a good run. Combine that with running outdoors where you have access to all the fresh air you need along with the healing that nature provides and you have a great situation for an improved mood and headspace.
If running is too high impact for your joints or your heart, consider a good, long walk outside. Walking is probably the most accessible form of exercise but it is often overlooked. Research shows that low intensity exercise is one of the best ways to improve alertness and increase positive thoughts. If walking alone doesn’t interest you, call a friend and pair up together.
In my research, yoga came up over and over as a way to combat depression and mental health issues and one of the biggest reasons for this is because of the long, deep breaths that yoga requires. This way of breathing sends your nervous system into its parasympathetic mode which takes it out of the fight or flight mode. Calm breathing tells your body that you are safe and not under attack. In addition, the stretching of your body into unusual positions can help your mind-body connection, and can help you get unstuck, both physically and mentally.
Sometimes we need a healthy outlet for aggression and anger, and there’s no better way than a good, sweaty boxing session. Releasing all those pent up emotions can be both healing and empowering. The aerobic nature of boxing will get your heart revving, releasing happy hormones. I think you’ll also find that when you’re in the middle of a boxing match, your brain isn’t focused on anything else but the activity in front of you.
Weight lifting has always been known to increase one's self esteem and body image. As your body gets stronger, your confidence rises and your outlook on life improves overall. You’ll start to notice improvements in your sleep, a stronger body in general, and better balance and coordination. You’ll often hear people who lift weights on a regular basis say that they feel much happier along with a sense of accomplishment when they leave the gym. And if you’re struggling getting inside the gym doors, just commit to the first 10 minutes. Chances are after those 10 minutes you’ll already be feeling better and you’ll go ahead and finish your workout.
Few things get your heart rate up like a good spin class. Along with that, taking a class provides you with a feeling of community and a feeling of belonging. Signing up for a class helps hold you accountable, and gives you a greater reason for not canceling on yourself. Plus, spin classes are a ball of fun! The music, the energy, and the overall atmosphere makes you want to give it all you got. You’ll leave feeling exhausted and energized, all at the same time.
Why Does Exercise Help With Mental Health
When you raise your heart rate and get your body moving, there is extra blood circulation that goes to your brain. This is a fantastic article that talks about how the increased blood flow to your brain means more oxygen and energy, which increases performance and clarity, and decreases brain fog. Our body’s were not meant to be stagnant; we were meant to move and to be active. Plus, when we are active on a regular basis, things just work better inside of us.
Exercise is also known to impact the following in a positive way:
- Helps improve your sleep and reduce insomnia
- Helps decrease addictive behaviors
- Helps increase energy and stamina
- Stronger sex drive
- Stress reliever
- More energy
If we want to improve our mental health, one of the easiest and most cost effective ways of doing that is to just get moving. If choosing an activity by yourself looks too overwhelming, get yourself a workout partner and do it together. Hold each other accountable and you’ll soon see an improvement in your moods and your body as a whole. Mix it up with different kinds of workouts, but most of all, find something you enjoy and that makes you feel good. Challenge your mind and your body by trying new and different things. Get yourself out of your comfort zone, and you’ll probably surprise yourself with what you’re actually capable of doing and how much it will positively affect your mental health.