How Physical Activity Enhances Mental Health
Moving Your Body
Babies have an innate desire to move around. From the time young ones can babble, they learn that movement and play go hand in hand. After discovering how to roll over, crawl and walk, many school-aged children look forward to playing through movement during recess and riding bikes or dancing after school. Most children still feel joyful about movement, but somewhere between childhood and adulthood, exercise can start to feel less like a pastime pleasure and more like a requisite responsibility.
While some adults maintain a regular workout routine, many find it hard to prioritize movement in our already busy schedules. Even for those who love exercise, life has a way of rearranging your priorities; what was once a regular pastime can get downgraded to whenever-there’s-time. Before you know it, you may not remember the last time you broke a sweat.
Exercise improves mental health. The connection between mental health and physical activity is widely recognized. How does exercise benefit mood? There are a number of strong hypotheses including:
- the release of endorphins in the brain
- anti-inflammatory influence on neurotransmitters
- endocannabinoid system response
It is likely that all of these hypotheses help explain the benefits of physical activity on mental health. Studies have shown that exercise benefits mood and energy, reduces stress, improves sleep, and lowers the risk of health physical health conditions including diabetes and heart disease.
Exercise and Depression Relationship
Research has shown that exercise can also be effective in preventing and treating Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). Withdrawal, isolation, fatigue, and poor sleep patterns are among the most common symptoms of depression. In contrast, exercise increases energy, reduces fatigue, and helps improve sleep. Because of its counteracting effects, physical activity can help break the monotonous cycle of depression. For those with depression, one study demonstrated that physical activity, including yoga, should be considered a first-line treatment option.
Recommended Dose of Exercise
The recommended dose of exercise is 50 minutes of moderate intensity activity 3 times per week. What exactly is moderate intensity activity? Imagine walking swiftly as if you were late for an event. Ready to add more exercise to your routine? Find a physical activity that you love. Revisit activities that you used to enjoy, like biking or soccer, or try experimenting with new and exciting ways to move your body. Be patient with yourself, and notice which activities help you feel happy, strong and motivated.
You may discover that you prefer to workout in a structured environment such as a gym or a social sports league. Many people find that supervised group environments help them adhere to their new routines. But, if you prefer to work out alone, consider finding an accountability partner or someone to touch base with often so that you may help keep each other motivated.
Don’t Sweat It!
While your body may not be ready to pick up exactly where it left off, there are so many ways to start adding movement back into your daily routine. Consider joining a gym, taking a yoga class or learning a new sport. While deciding which activity to try first, go for a meditative walk. It only takes one step to start and every step counts. Forget to exercise? Remember that each new day is a new opportunity to prioritize your health by recommitting to physical activity.
Many people start exercising again by walking around their office during lunch or their neighborhood block. From there, work your way up to several laps around your block or add more blocks to your route. Eventually, you may walk to the gym, go on a long bike ride, or even go for a run. How far you go is not as important as committing to taking that first step each and every day.
Tools To Get Started
It can feel challenging to start a new exercise routine. If you add depression into the equation, exercising can feel even more daunting. You may not know how or where to start, you may feel too tired, or it may seem like you don’t have enough time. Here is a list of ideas, tips and tricks that can help anyone starting a new fitness journey.
- Start a Mood/Exercise diary. Record how you feel before and after you exercise. Exercise diaries can help you discover which physical activities make you feel your best.
- Set a goal and plan your reward. Planning is the key to success. Set a SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based) exercise goal. Then, decide how you will reward yourself for achieving it. Celebrating achievement is vital to your mental health and can make exercise fun. Once you achieve your first goal, don’t stop there! Set your next goal and start working towards another reward.
- Try different activities. It’s important to find ways to move your body that you love. If you don’t enjoy walking around your block, consider walking on the beach, in a park or somewhere else you enjoy. If you love shopping, maybe try briskly walking around the mall. Get creative!
- Remember exercise doesn’t have to cost money. Gym memberships and yoga classes can be costly, but hiking, walking, running, bicycling, and even gardening are just a few of the many free ways to get up and move.
- Don’t underestimate positivity. Exercise is not a punishment. It is a tool to help you feel your best. Repeat positive statements to yourself about exercise and the way it makes you feel. When you commit to staying active, you are prioritizing self-care.
Neuro Wellness Spa provides evidence-based nutrition and exercise coaching as well as an array of IV nutrition therapies. We are passionate about helping our clients live their healthiest lives. Contact us today.