How does exercise improve mental health?
Exercise is not only great for the body, but it is also great for the mind. Regular exercise can help reduce depression and anxiety. It can help improve your sleep, your memory as well as your mood.
You don’t need to become a slave to the gym or start training for a marathon to reap the mental health benefits of exercise. Regardless of your age or current fitness levels, research has shown that relatively small amounts of exercise can have a hugely positive impact on your mental health and overall sense of wellbeing.
Most people who exercise don’t do it primarily to improve their physical health. They exercise because it gives them more energy, helps them to feel more relaxed and generally feel better about themselves.
Exercise can help to treat depression as effectively as antidepressants, without the side-effects of prescription anti-depressants. Participating in regular exercise can help those suffering from depression from relapsing. Exercise causes the brain to release chemicals called endorphins which give you energy and make you feel good about yourself. Exercises also causes lots of positive changes in the brain that help to make you feel calm as well as reduce inflammation in the brain.
Exercise can also help to improve mental health as it is a great distraction from dwelling on negative thoughts that in turn fuel depression.
Exercise relieves anxiety, stress and tension; it also gives your mental and physical energy levels a boost. Studies show that if you focus on how your body is reacting to the exercise such as listening to your breath or the sound of your feet hitting the ground as you run, then this will help to reduce the cycle of negative thoughts going through your mind.
Exercise can help to reduce mental stress as it helps to relax tense muscles, which in turn helps to relieve mental tension. Tense muscles can add to the levels of mental stress, so exercising can have a massive impact on breaking this cycle between body and mind.
Can exercise help children who find it difficult to concentrate?
Exercise is not only good for adults but it can be great for kids who have trouble concentrating, as it has a similar impact as the ADHD medications Ritalin and Adderall. Kids who find it hard to concentrate find that regular daily exercise helps to improve their concentration, memory and mood. This is because an increase in exercise increases the brains levels of the chemical messengers’ dopamine and serotonin which help us to improve attention.
What type of exercise is best to improve mental health?
So if exercise is so good for both the body and mind, then what type of exercise has the greatest positive effect on mental health? Studies have shown that exercise that involves the body moving as much a possible using both the arms and legs have the greatest positive impact. Examples include walking, running, weight training, dancing or exercise classes such as High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) circuit classes.
Where is best to exercise to improve mental health?
Participating in exercise outside an also have a greater impact on improving mental health. Exercising in green spaces such as parks and woods has also been shown to greatly improve mental health when compared to exercising inside.
How long to you need to exercise to improve mental health?
You don’t need to slave away on a running machine for hours at a time. You only need to do three 10 minute sessions a day, five days a week. You can build this volume of exercise up over time as your physical and mental health improve. The key is that you need to get yourself moderately out of breath and start to feel warmer than normal.
So start small and focus on exercise activities that you enjoy and you can see yourself still doing in 3-6 months’ time. Schedule exercise in to a time of day that fits into your everyday schedule so that it does not get in the way of other commitments.
How to start exercising to improve mental health
Exercise at the times of the day when you find you have the most energy, as this will help you to stick with it. Make it social and recruit friends or family to join you. Give yourself a goal to aim for and write it down and share with others. You might also consider keeping a mood diary and make a note how you are feeling each day to see if you can notice an improvement in your own mental health over time.