Does Exercise Improve Mental Health?

From an early age, we are taught how regular exercise can positively impact our bodies, increase our muscle mass, lower our blood pressure, boost our energy, minimize our risk of disease, and improve practically every aspect of our physical health.

But what about other aspects, such as mental health? Aside from physical benefits, having a regular fitness routine can also strengthen our mental and emotional wellbeing. And as we continue to navigate new environments and challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, shaking up how much (or how little) we move is more important than ever for both our internal and external selves.

In this blog post, we’ll explore several ways exercise and mental health correlate, along with a few tips for moving more frequently. Ready to lace up those sneakers and get moving? Let’s jump in.

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Active vs. Sedentary Lifestyle

It’s not uncommon knowledge that a sedentary lifestyle is detrimental to holistic health. But when we think back over the last couple of years, the COVID-19 pandemic significantly increased how much time people spent sitting, which can hurt mental health.

Sport Sciences for Health published a study showing that those who sit for eight hours or more daily experience adverse mental health [1, 2].

Benefits of Exercise on Mental Health

Exercise is known to help decrease symptoms of certain mental health disorders due to its “mood-boosting” capabilities. When we exercise, our body releases endorphins which are hormones known to elicit joy. Additional benefits of more moving are decreased stress, improved sleep, enhanced cognitive function, increased energy, and boosted self-esteem. Doing our best to increase movement and decrease immobility will greatly improve mental health.

Anxiety & Depression

According to researchers at Harvard Medical School, exercise can help ease anxiety symptoms. The report states that staying active can distract you from intrusive thoughts, decrease muscle tension, and help to build resilience.

On a scientific level, exercise also activates the brain’s frontal lobe. This cognitive area controls how we react to perceived threats, which means exercise improves our executive function and helps us regulate mood [3].

Schizophrenia

Along with helping alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression, exercise can be beneficial for those living with schizophrenia. Antipsychotic medications for treating schizophrenia typically cause weight gain when schizophrenic patients are already vulnerable to obesity. Exercise can help manage medication side effects by assisting patients in managing weight, reducing blood pressure, increasing energy levels, and improving strength [4].

Exercise Recommendations

The American Heart Association offers the following recommendations for physical activity:

  • Exercise for at least 75-150 minutes per week, depending on intensity.
  • Participate in strength-training activity at least two times per week.
  • Reduce the amount of time sitting because even the slightest movement level can help offset the adverse health impacts of a sedentary lifestyle.
  • Increase the amount of exercise slowly over time.

If you’re just starting, the American Heart Association says to start by setting reasonable, attainable goals [5]. For example, if you are entirely new to exercise, try getting up and walking around for five to ten minutes. The smallest amount of movement can go a long way!

If you want to move more but aren’t sure where to begin, check in with a healthcare provider on exercise coach to seek their insight. No matter where you start or where you go, one thing is for sure: moving more will boost your holistic wellbeing and support your mental health.

Let’s get moving!

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Sources:

  1. Impact of sitting time and physical activity on mental health during COVID-19 lockdown
  2. Even with exercise, sedentary lifestyle has consequences for mental health
  3. Can exercise ease anxiety?
  4. Exercise for mental health
  5. American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity

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