How can exercise improve mental health?
There is no doubt that exercise can improve your physical health on a number of levels including controlling your weight, lowering the risk of most diseases and lowering blood pressure. But what can exercise do for your mental health?
There is a strong correlation between mental health and regular exercise. There are so many forms of exercise too, making it easier to choose the physical activity that suits you best. Even a short walk everyday can drastically improve your mental health (especially in times of lockdown!). Exercise reduces stress and can reduce your risk of depression.
It produces changes in the parts of the brain that regulate stress and anxiety. It can also increase brain sensitivity for the hormones serotonin and norepinephrine, which relieve feelings of depression. In some cases, physical activity can instantly remove feelings of anxiety. Exercise itself produces endorphins, a feel-good hormone that boosts your mood and reduces pain.
Physical activity has been shown by many studies to have a positive impact on our mood. Immediately after exercising, participants have been more positive about life, and activities can encourage an individual to make further changes. For example, individuals trying to lose weight report they’re a lot more motivated to stick to their diet after a period of exercise. Overall research has found that low-intensity aerobic exercise for 30–35 minutes, 3–5 days a week, for 10–12 weeks was best at increasing positive moods.
Exercise, no matter how short or intense the session can have a positive impact on mood and mental health.
Exercise also gives participants a sense of control over their own wellbeing, which is very positive. Patients experiencing depression often lack the feeling of self-control. We suggest exercising outdoors rather than indoors. Indoors there are many distractions and when we head outside closer to nature, our brain is stimulated more. Our body is more challenged too as we are working out on different surfaces and levels.
Physical activity is available to all, has few costs attached, and is an empowering approach that can support self-management of depression.
Here are some tips to help you with exercising:
Try to do a little exercise every day
Small decisions can lead to big changes in your mental health. Committing to doing a little exercise every day creates a routine and you’ll start to associate the exercise as a needed task to improve your overall wellbeing.
Keep track of progress and set goals
Challenge yourself to keep a record of your exercise activities. This will help you to stick to it in times of suffering. Goals will help you to concentrate on progressing with your fitness goals, if you decide to set them.
Make exercise more fun
You can make exercise more fun in many ways like introducing a new routine or building your own workout, listening to music whilst exercising or joining a class.
Find exercises you can do in all weathers
If you want to stick to doing a little exercise each day, the weather can hold you back. Try implementing different pre-planned routines as backups if the rain starts. You could arrange to exercise in a sheltered area, or to devise an indoor routine.
Leave behind technology
Leaving behind your phone can allow you to concentrate fully on yourself, avoiding the possibility of interruptions. The aim is to eliminate all potential worry for the period you’re exercising.
Be active with family/friends
Although difficult at the minute due to restrictions, exercising with friends or family could mean making exercise more enjoyable. You might also consider joining a group or class such as a running club, cycling club or football team.
Exercising certainly has a number of mental health benefits as well as physical health benefits. If you are worried about your mental health and require help and advice, we are happy to book you in to see Dr Behzad Basit, a leading Psychiatrist in London.
Dr Behzad Basit is an experienced Psychiatrist with his medical career starting in 1988. Dr Basit been described by patients and colleagues as very approachable and can help patients experiencing anxiety. His background in general practice, psychiatry and psychotherapy enables him to take a holistic approach in assessment and management of patients.