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    Can exercise help our mental health as well our physical health?

    On this page
    1. The benefits of exercise for your mental health
    2. Your mood will improve
    3. You’ll be able to manage negative thoughts
    4. You’ll sleep better
    5. You’ll have more energy
    6. You’ll feel better about yourself
    7. You can connect with other people
    8. You’ll reduce your risk of depression 
    9. What is the best exercise for your mental health?
    10. Tips for getting more exercise 
    11. Start small
    12. Find an exercise style that works for you
    13. Be proud of your progress
    14. Don’t be too hard on yourself

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    We’ve all been told how important exercise is for our bodies – but did you know it can do wonders for the brain too?

    If you’re struggling with your mental health, getting more active should help improve your mood and reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. While it’s not always easy to get into the swing of exercising when your mental health is poor, it’s important to remember that any small change can make a difference.

    To learn more about the benefits of exercise, and for some simple tips on getting active, read on. 

    The benefits of exercise for your mental health

    If you can manage to introduce some regular exercise into your routine, you should start to see all sorts of positive changes, including the following:

    Your mood will improve

    Moving your body helps to reduce levels of stress hormones and increase levels of endorphins – these are “feel-good” chemicals that boost your mood and make you feel relaxed. As a bonus, they also act as a natural painkiller. 

    You’ll be able to manage negative thoughts

    Stressful and intrusive thought cycles are a common mental health symptom, and they can be difficult to break. By exercising, you can give your brain something else to focus on – and by the time you finish your workout, your mood will naturally have lifted because of the release of endorphins. .

    You’ll sleep better

    Poor sleep is a major symptom of anxiety and depression, and – as we all know – it can worsen symptoms too. Doing regular exercise is a great way to improve your sleep for the simple fact that you’ll be more tired at the end of the day. 

    Indirectly, exercise improves your mood and helps you manage anxious and intrusive thoughts, both of which should make it easier for you to nod off. 

    You can find out more about the benefits of good sleep here

    You’ll have more energy

    It might seem counterintuitive, but exercise can really boost your energy, in part because it increases oxygen levels. If tiredness is a major symptom for you, you’ll probably find that getting active helps you feel more energised and motivated – it’ll also help you sleep better at night.

    You’ll feel better about yourself

    Exercise can do wonders for your body confidence and self-worth. Not only can it help you lose weight and get stronger, it’s also a great way to set and smash goals.

    You can connect with other people

    Living with anxiety or depression can be really isolating, and you might find it hard to make or maintain friendships. Though it won’t appeal to everyone, many types of exercise – including team sports – offer the opportunity to meet and connect with new people. 

    Creating a community around an activity can be a great way to build enjoyment and confidence, and ensure you keep it up.  

    You’ll reduce your risk of depression 

    In addition to boosting your mood in the short term, regular exercise has been shown to reduce your risk of developing depression. 

    What is the best exercise for your mental health?

    There aren’t fixed rules about which types of activity are best for your brain. In most cases, it will be about personal preference e.g. whether you prefer team vs solo activities, or regimented vs freeform workouts.

    However, to release those all-important endorphins, you’ll usually need to be doing aerobic exercise – otherwise known as “cardio”. This type of exercise involves brisk, sustained activity e.g. fast walking, jogging, cycling or dancing.  

    Anaerobic exercise, like weight-lifting or sprinting, involves short bursts of activity. This type of exercise is also beneficial for your body and mind, but you’ll feel the strongest mental benefit from aerobic activities.

    Other than that, exercise styles that incorporate breathing and relaxation techniques (e.g. yoga) can be really beneficial for your mental health as they can help with stress. 

    Tips for getting more exercise 

    When you’re having a hard time with your mental health, it can be difficult to get motivated to exercise. The thought of exercising – especially in front of other people – might trigger your anxiety, or you might simply lack the energy. Whatever it is that’s holding you back, these tips should help you get started. 

    Start small

    Any additional exercise that you can add into your daily routine is going to have a benefit. The aim should be to start with small changes, and gradually increase your daily activity in a manageable way. 

    Rather than aiming to run a 10K in your first week, set the goal of going for a brisk walk each day – the added benefit of this is that getting outdoors, especially in nature, can really boost your mood. 

    Find an exercise style that works for you

    Everyone is different, which means there’s no one exercise style that will work for you. For some people, exercises classes or team sports are the best way to stay motivated. But if you’re nervous about exercising with other people, you can stick to solo activities like home workouts, hiking or jogging. 

    If you find normal exercise boring, consider taking a dance class, or try walking or cycling to work instead of taking public transport. 

    Be proud of your progress

    Progress isn’t always about beating personal bests – sometimes it’s just about making a commitment and sticking to it. Maybe you made it through a difficult exercise class when you wanted to quit, or maybe you managed a yoga move you couldn’t do last week? Whatever the case, it’s important to celebrate these small successes.

    Don’t be too hard on yourself

    We all have low moments so don’t beat yourself up on days where you don’t have the energy to exercise, or when you finish a workout early. Resting and recharging is important!

    References

    https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/exercising-to-relax
    https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/physical-activity-and-your-mental-health/about-physical-activity/
    https://www.health.harvard.edu/exercise-and-fitness/does-exercise-really-boost-energy-levels
    https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/aerobic-exercise-examples
    https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/nature-and-mental-health/how-nature-benefits-mental-health/ 

    Authors and editors

    • Reviewed and updated by

      Dr Tatjana Street
      GMC number: 4569536
      Date reviewed: 22nd December 2021

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