• Medically reviewed
    by Haseena William - Lead Advanced Care Practitioner

How physical activities help improve mental health

mental health

We know that exercise can help make our bodies lighter, fitter, and stronger. But what can it do for the brain, which is our most vital organ?

Mental health is important at all stages of life: childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. We often overlook the significant mental health advantages of exercise. It’s becoming increasingly clear that regular exercise and good mental health are intimately connected. 

Exercise can aid in the treatment of various types of mental issues, such as stress, anxiety, mild depression, and eating disorders. It works on mental health problems that are either caused by genetic, environmental, or biological factors.

The National Institute of Mental Health is one of the institutes and centers that make up the National Institutes of Health, which is a part of the United States Department of Health and Human Services. It has conducted several mental health surveys, studies, and observations.

According to the NIMH, physical activity can help improve mental health and emotional wellness. This means that regular exercise appears to help reduce the risk of mental health issues.

Why is exercise good for one’s mental health?

Exercise is good for one’s mental health because it helps make people feel good. It can improve your attitude, focus, and alertness. Exercise may even help you develop a positive view of life.

The Happy Hormones

The production of feel-good brain chemicals, like endorphins, is the most remarkable effect of physical exercise on our mental health. Endorphins are chemicals that can help reduce pain and tension in the brain, giving us a general sense of pleasure while we engage in physical exercises and activities. 

The feeling is similar to runner’s high, which is a euphoric state often experienced after prolonged exercise, an effect caused by the increase of endorphins in the blood.

Endorphins are one of the numerous neurotransmitters in our brain that influence how we think and feel in different situations. During exercise, they help release beneficial chemicals throughout the body. This doesn’t only assist us in completing the task at hand but also helps boost our overall mood. 

Beneficial chemicals for mental health include:

  • Dopamine
  • Norepinephrine
  • Serotonin
  • Adrenaline

This chemical release is one of the many reasons why exercise is such an effective treatment for a range of mental disorders.

Benefits of exercise to your mental health

Why does physical activity make you feel better? It’s quite challenging to explain the relationship between exercise and mental wellness. Inactivity, for example, could be both a cause and a result of mental health problems. While we don’t know exactly why or how it improves mood, here are notable benefits of exercise:

  • Helps release tension

A continuous soreness or pain in our muscles, bones, or other body parts can sometimes produce feelings of sadness. Aerobic exercise, such as yoga or Pilates, can help relieve tension and discomfort in these regions, making it a good choice for mental health.

  • Helps strengthen memory

Exercise not only increases the release of beneficial chemicals in the brain but it can also increase the activity in the hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for memory. Moreover, our nerve cells make more connections, which helps to safeguard our thoughts from harm and mental health conditions.

  • Helps burn calories and boost self-esteem

Weight loss and muscle strengthening are common side effects of regular exercise. If you have low self-esteem, this can help you feel more at ease with your appearance and help you build a healthier and more balanced appetite.

  • A pleasant distraction

When you’re exercising, you’re more likely to get distracted from the things that make you worried or unhappy. Exercise assists in disrupting any negative thinking patterns that are contributing to your mood by providing you with something else to focus on, making it a helpful coping technique.

  • Helps improve sleep quality

Regular exercise as part of your bedtime routine may assist in relaxing your muscles. It helps wear you out if getting your eight hours of shut-eye is a daily fight. Being able to relax allows you to get enough sleep, thus, helping improve the health of your mind and body.

How much physical exercise should you get to gain health benefits? 

How much physical exercise you get to gain health benefits will depend on how much you can handle. It’s healthier to engage in some form of physical exercise than to do nothing at all. You can achieve some of the health benefits described above with as little as a quick stroll.

However, the more workout you do, the more effective and consistent the healing benefits will become. According to a Psychology Today article, Dr. Madhukar Trivedi’s research demonstrates that 3-4 rounds of 45-60 minute physical activity each week may help reduce depression symptoms significantly.

How to get started?

To get started, you must have a workout or exercise plan. Even if you’ve never exercised in a while and it might be intimidating to begin, a plan will serve as a good starting point and a guide for you to follow.

Your new workout routine is more likely to succeed if you:

  • Choose an activity that you love or have previously enjoyed
  • Gradually increase your activities
  • Consult your doctor or an authorized exercise physiologist, especially if a cardiac problem, like heart disease or stroke, is the main cause of your mental health disorder
  • Make a note of your plan in a journal or on your calendar so that it becomes a part of your routine

Key takeaways

One of the best ways for improving your general mood and attitude in life is to form a favorable association between exercise and mental health. Exercise can help us feel better not just physically but also psychologically.

May this blog help you in understanding why physical activity makes such a significant impact on our well-being. You can get more tips from Mental Health America to help motivate you to incorporate more activities into your daily routine.

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