How Does Exercise Improve Mental Health?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one in five adults in the United States experiences a diagnosable mental illness each year. Although effective treatments—such as antidepressant medications and talk therapy—are available, many people encounter barriers to mental health care. Barriers reducing access to mental health care may range from the stigma of mental illness to the cost of treatment, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Research has demonstrated the effectiveness of exercise in helping to treat various mental disorders, including depression, anxiety disorders, addiction, and personality disorders. Additionally, regular exercise can also help relieve stress, chronic pain, bad moods, and low energy levels. If you’re living with a mental health condition or experiencing mental health symptoms, here’s how regular exercise can help in your journey toward wellness.
Mental Health Benefits of Regular Exercise
Regular physical activity is an essential component of our overall health—from adolescence through adulthood. We all know that physical activity has wide-ranging benefits for your physical health, including a lowered risk of heart disease, obesity, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. Additionally, physical activity can help relieve various mental health problems and improve cognitive functioning.
When you work out, your body releases mood-boosting chemicals like endorphins. Whether you’re walking around your neighborhood or joining a dance class, workouts provide a source of social interaction, reducing feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Research shows that regular physical activity can also help reduce stress and symptoms of mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. Combined with therapy, regular physical activity and healthy lifestyle choices are critical in successful mental health treatment.
According to the National Institutes of Health, some other mental health benefits of regular physical activity include:
- Sharper memory and thinking
- Higher self-esteem
- Increased energy levels
- Better sleep
- Higher levels of motivation
- Stronger resilience
How much physical activity do you need?
You don’t need to spend hours at the gym or run miles to enjoy the health benefits of regular exercise. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise, five times a week can help lower your risk of cardiovascular disease, reduce blood pressure, and improve cognitive function and brain health.
Suppose you can’t fit 30 minutes of physical activity into your schedule or don’t have enough stamina to complete your workout. That’s completely normal and you’ll be able to increase your physical activity as you work on improving your fitness level and muscle strength. To start, try splitting your workouts up into 10-minute sessions and gradually increasing your time. Ultimately, you should aim for moderate physical activity on most days of the week.
As you start exercising regularly, you can add minutes to your daily brisk walk or treadmill time or try different types of exercise, such as weight training or dancing.
If you’re living with a disability or other health problems, be sure to talk to your doctor before starting any exercise programs. Your doctor can advise you on how much exercise to aim for each day, help you set fitness goals, and determine the best exercises for your situation.
Don’t hesitate to seek professional help if you need it.
If you’re experiencing a difficult stage of life, navigating relationship problems, or living with mild stress, incorporating physical activity into your daily life can help you manage your mental health while lowering your risk of chronic diseases. With that said, it’s important to remember that physical activity is not a substitute for therapy.
If you’re experiencing mental health symptoms that impact your quality of life, such as overwhelming anxiety or depression, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. If you’re experiencing a mental health crisis, mental health care is available.
Accessing mental health care is more convenient than ever. With more mental health providers offering online services, it’s possible to attend your appointments from the comfort of your own home.
To find a therapist, reach out to a provider through the Therapy Group of DC. Our compassionate mental health professionals provide personalized, data-driven treatment to help you feel your best. Whether you’re trying therapy for the first time or transitioning to online therapy, one of our experienced therapists will help you navigate your mental health issues and determine the best treatment plan in your journey toward mental wellness.