Exercise and Mental Health
It has become common knowledge that exercise promotes physical health. In recent years, research has also focused on the positive effects of exercise on your mood and mental health.
Stress, anxiety and depression are common challenges in our society. In fact, the American Psychological Association reports that two thirds of visits to primary care physicians are stress-related (2013). In addition to psychotherapy and other lifestyle changes, incorporating exercise into your routine has been linked to lower stress levels.
How Does My Mood Improve When I Exercise?
- Exercise contributes to the release of endorphins, which greatly enhance your mood.
- Exercise helps to combat symptoms of depression, including lethargy, fatigue, and loss of interest
- Mental health issues are often characterized by negative thought patterns. Exercise provides a distraction from these negative thoughts, and helps to boost confidence, self-esteem, and overall satisfaction.
- Exercise increases energy and alertness, preparing us for the challenges of daily life.
Research is beginning to focus on how exercise may “train” the body to deal with the stress response. When we exercise, we experience many of the same sensations we feel when we are under stress. For example, the nervous system is engaged, the heart races, and perspiration begins. Exercise may actually teach the body that the stress response is a common state of being, and as a result, we may better face stressful situations in our lives.
Incorporating Exercise Into Your Life
Engaging in exercise frequently creates a natural, consistent energy supply. You will sleep better and have more energy to meet the demands of your life. Gardening, going for a walk, and even completing household chores are forms of exercise.
Find an activity that you enjoy doing. We are more likely to engage in exercise if we have fun while doing it. This could include walking with a friend, hiking, exercising along with yoga videos, attending a boxing class, etc.
Instead of telling yourself, “I will exercise more,” try to create a measurable goal. For example, “I will go to a 1-hour yoga class twice a week, and walk 3 times a week for 30 minutes.”
If you are struggling to cope with a mental health issue, psychotherapy may help you to overcome your struggles. Physical activity is often a complementary tool to increase your energy, alertness, and confidence, as well as helping you to cope with stress. Consult a physician before making any changes to your diet, health regimen or lifestyle.
American Psychological Association (2013). Exercise Fuels the Brain’s Stress Buffers. Retrieved from: http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/exercise-stress.aspx
American Psychological Association (2013). The Exercise Effect. Retrieved from:
Canadian Psychological Association (2013). Psychology Works Fact Sheet: Physical Activity. Retrieved from: http://www.cpa.ca/docs/File/Publications/FactSheets/PsychologyWorksFactSheet_PhysicalActivity.pdf