By: Megan Earp
Getting outside and moving is imperative to your mental health. Research has proven that aerobic exercise is just as effective as antidepressants in treating mild to moderate depression and comes with benefits like improved health and weight management. Exercise has proven to be effective in combating symptoms of mental health. So why not give it a try?
Exercise can help treat depression
In countries like Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the Netherlands, official guidelines include exercise as a first-line treatment for depression. The United States has yet to adopt such guidelines, but exercise allows the brain to feel “happy.” When you exercise, the hypothalamus and pituitary gland produces endorphins, which are considered “nature’s painkillers.” These endorphins bring about feelings of euphoria and well-being. Exercise can also energize you, once again releasing endorphins that will help to combat stress.
Here are other ways that exercise can boost your mental health:
- It releases happy chemicals – Dopamine is the “feel good” hormone that helps the brain to feel happy and is a key chemical in brain growth and health. It contributes to motivation, concentration, and feelings of bliss.
- Less stress – Exercise helps to relieve you of the day’s worries and can reduce your stress level. It’s a low-level form of stress because it raises your heart rate and can trigger hormonal changes. This kind of activity can train the body to handle other life stressors for the long term.
- Energy – Who doesn’t want to be able to complete more in a day’s time? Exercise can help to boost your energy levels, helping you to get more accomplished and feel less behind on your daily chores. A morning run can prep you for the day, and an evening workout session can boost your energy for family time.
- Boost for confidence – Liking how you look is part of boosting your confidence, and when you exercise you can see your body transform which can boost your self-esteem. With good self-esteem, you will become more motivated and have confidence in your life. This can create an overall sense of happiness.
- Reduces anxiety – Exercise can reduce symptoms of anxiety almost immediately due to the endorphin surge (mentioned above) and can provide long term impacts. It’s an easy way to help combat anxiety, and only 15 minutes can do the trick!
- Battle insomnia – exercising can help with insomnia as well. As long as you stay regularly active, it can improve sleeping issues and even provide better sleep quality. In turn, this can make you feel more restful and ready to take on the day!
Though exercise has been proven to help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, it doesn’t mean that it will replace medication or talking with a therapist. Exercise is simply an intervention, something that can help to improve your quality of life. Along with exercise comes something called mindfulness. Mindfulness can be induced by exercise and it’s another way to help fight symptoms of mental health.
What are the benefits of mindfulness during exercise?
When you exercise, let’s say running for example, try to take a moment and pay attention to how your feet hit the ground. Listen to your breathing. Take notice of the wind blowing through the trees. The way the sun feels on your skin. Push other thoughts out of your mind by allowing yourself to be in the moment. Focusing on your body and how it feels as you are moving can help to improve your physical condition and interrupt the flow of constant worry. Exercise can calm the anxious mind and allow the “happy chemicals” to flow and elevate your mood.
One thing to keep in mind when you exercise is to allow your mind to go blank and focus on what you are doing at that moment in time. It’s okay to push thoughts out of your mind that entail housework, work, relationship issues, and more. It’s perfectly acceptable to focus on the task at hand for 15 minutes or longer, depending on the time you can commit to your exercise.
Here is a list of the benefits of using mindfulness during a workout:
- Stronger connection to your body – allowing yourself to focus on each exercise, what your muscles are doing, and what is being accomplished will allow you to get more out of the exercise, thus feeling better about yourself in the end.
- Better results – when you allow yourself to focus on what you are doing, it can improve the quality of your movement which will improve the quality of your workout. Once again, it can help to boost your self-esteem and to allow you to feel better.
- More satisfaction – when you know what your workout is giving you, you then know what you are getting out of it. You can know that you did your best and that you really pushed yourself, thus, once again, boosting the happy chemicals in your brain.
So, how can you become more mindful of your exercise so it will produce benefits for your mental health? Below, there a several ways to boost your exercise, improve your mood, and allow yourself to let go, zone out, and heal from the inside out.
Here’s how to improve your workout for the maximum health benefits:
- Have a purpose for each workout – if the purpose of your workout is to relieve stress, anxiety, etc. then focus on that. As you run, lift, walk, etc. allow your mind to go blank, follow the rhythm of your step, listen to the trees swaying in the wind, or the animals scurrying around you. If you are in an urban setting, listen to the hum of the cars on the highway, or laughter of children in a park, if that doesn’t work, put headphones in and zone out to the music of your choice – though this should be a last resort and not something to start with. Music has a way of not allowing your mind to completely “zone out,” but it’s a good backup if you are having trouble doing so.
- Remember why you are working out – is it to reduce stress? To feel better about yourself? To relieve the overload of thoughts in your mind? To sleep better? To have more energy? Or to escape the monotony of a regular work day? Know this reason and push yourself to achieve whatever goal of your exercise is.
- Slow down – this is your time. You set this aside for you. Don’t feel guilty about taking “you” time because we all need it. It’s okay for you to focus on yourself, so allow yourself to go all in. Focus on each movement, focus on your surroundings, but whatever you do, do not feel guilty about allowing yourself this time. It’s good for you, and well deserved.
- Remind yourself to breathe – breathing is one of the simplest ways to relieve stress and allow yourself to come to the current moment. If your mind wanders to stressors of the day, stop, close your eyes, take a deep breath, and come back to the present moment. All you have to do at this moment is exercise, zone out, and work on you. The rest will come later.
- End on a good note – allow yourself, when you complete your exercise, to cool down. Slowly stretch, take a slow walk, or lie down on your back and breathe, in and out, slowly. Allow your heart rate to calm down, all while keeping your mind focused on you. Then, take a nice, warm shower, breathing in and out while you do so, and come out feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the next thing. For those of you who like setting goals, write down your workouts each day in a journal and track your progress. This, in itself, can be a mood booster.
But if sometimes you forget to be mindful and just zone out, that’s fine too.
Overall, exercise has proven to be beneficial to mental health and practicing mindfulness in conjunction with a good workout can be paramount to your health. Allow yourself to take time and to get outside (or inside), and focus on you for a given amount of time. Remember, in that time, allow yourself to go all in, breathe, and focus on why you are doing this.
When you exercise regularly, it will give you a sense of well-being, more energy, the ability to sleep at night, clearer memories, and you will feel more relaxed and positive about yourself and your life. It’s a powerful medicine for many common health challenges. So, get up, get outside, and get moving, your body, and most importantly, your mind, will thank you.
If you still feel depressed or anxious even after including exercise in your daily routine, please contact us or call us on 8888701775.