Exercise, one of the greatest natural medications we have. It happens to be one of my favorite things to do for mental clarity and physical wellness. How much do we really use it though? When we go to the doctor our physician may suggest that we exercise to lose weight, lower blood pressure, manage diabetes, and to help with joint pain and flexibility to name a few. But what about mental health? How can exercise impact mental health?
Exercise has proven to help mild to moderate depression. Simply running for 15 minutes a day or walking for an hour may reduce the symptoms of depression. Maintaining an exercise schedule can also prevent relapsing into depression and may also keep symptoms from being so intense. Exercise fights off depression in many ways. It creates changes in the brain that include neural growth, a reduction in inflammation, and activity patterns that enhance feelings of calm and well-being. Exercise also releases endorphins that make you feel energized and feel good overall. Lastly exercise provides an outlet, something to focus on other than the way you are feeling and negative experience(s).
Exercise is a natural anti-anxiety-medication. Exercise relieves tension and stress that can affect us physiologically. It boosts physical and mental energy through the release of endorphins. Exercise is especially helpful in managing anxiety when you can add mindfulness. When you are able to be mindful of your breath, your steps, the music you are able to take your attention from what is making you anxious by bringing you back to the present moment instead of the things that may be worrying you.
Exercise can relieve stress by helping you to release tension in your muscles. Muscles in your face, neck and shoulders may contribute to back and shoulder pain as well as headaches. Tightness in your chest, pounding pulse, and muscle cramps may also be indications of stress and tension. Insomnia, heartburn, stomachache, diarrhea, and frequent urination may also be indicators of stress and anxiety alike. Worrying about all of these things can lead to more stress which in turn can compound into a debilitating response. Exercise can change this cycle by creating endorphins and physical activity can help to release tension in the body. The mind and body are so intertwined. If you can feel relaxation in your body you most likely will be able to feel it in your mind even if for periods of time.
Exercise provides you with more opportunities to be mindful which can help your nervous system to become unstuck in regards to trauma that has been experienced mentally, physically, and emotionally. Exercises that involve cross movement and that engage both arms and legs—such as walking (especially in sand), running, swimming, weight training, or dancing are very helpful.
Other mental and emotional benefits of exercise include sharper memory and thinking, higher self-esteem, better sleep, more energy, and stronger resilience. All of this to say, JUST MOVE. It doesn’t matter what you do, just find something to do and do it. A few minutes a day is better than nothing at all. The key is starting. Maybe it looks like 5-10 minutes a day of engaging in some sort of exercise you enjoy and building on it. You may feel more comfortable at home or at the gym, You may benefit from an accountability partner, with a trainer, or your family. Working out isn’t always just about looking good. It is about feeling good, mentally, emotionally and physically. Be Well, Be Happy!