It is well-known that regular exercise is great for achieving a good physique and reducing health problems. But did you know that exercise is one of the most effective ways to improve your mental health? Research indicates that regular aerobic exercise can protect against feelings of depression and actually promotes feelings of happiness.
In addition to boosting your mood it also relieves stress, increases self-esteem, improves memory and may even help you get a better night’s sleep. Surprisingly, as little as five minutes of aerobic exercise can even begin to stimulate anti-anxiety effects.
You Are Not Alone
Almost everyone will experience an overwhelming amount of stress at some point in their life. It is safe to say that stress and anxiety are a normal part of life; but too often they develop into anxiety disorders, currently affecting more than 40 million adults in the U.S.
Each year millions of Americans are diagnosed with clinical depression and this growing epidemic is affecting quality of life for many individuals across the nation. According to an article recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the percentage of Americans on antidepressants nearly doubled from 1999 to 2012.
How Can Exercise Help?
Integrating endorphin-boosting exercise into your lifestyle can help support healthy functioning of the mind and body. Endorphins are the feel-good chemicals or “natural painkillers” in the brain that are released after exercise and promote feelings of well-being.
Studies indicate that for some people, regular exercise works as well as medication to bring relief to people experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Physical activity has a calming effect. It relaxes your muscles and can reduce the pain and tension associated with stress. The increase in activity can boost your energy levels and fight fatigue.
Putting your focus into exercising can give you a break from your thoughts and clear your mind. For example, by noticing the sensation of running or the rhythm of your breath while exercising, you are bringing mindful awareness to how your body feels as you exercise. This concentration and focus provides the opportunity to take attention away from the constant worries running through your mind, giving you a moment of peace.
How Much Exercise is Enough?
If the idea of starting a workout routine seems daunting you can start small. All you need is 30 minutes of activity three to five times a week to reap the benefits of improved mental health according to research experts. Even as little as 10-15 minutes a day has the potential to make a difference.
For those who enjoy a more heart pumping, vigorous workout such as high intensity fitness classes, bicycling or running, it may take less time to experience improvements in your mood. It is important to keep in mind that the benefits of physical activity may not stick around unless you keep with it on a regular basis.
Tips to Get You Going
Here are some helpful tips to get you started. If you already have an exercise program, way to go! These tips may help keep you motivated.
- Identify what you enjoy doing – make it fun! Exercise doesn’t have to be an arduous task. Make sure that whatever you choose, it’s tailored to your individual needs and is right for you. You may find that listening to some music, podcast or audiobook makes your workout more enjoyable.
- Get your mental health provider’s support – talk to your doctor or therapist about an exercise program or routine that fits within your overall plan for treatment.
- Set reasonable goals – Research indicates that regular exercise is key. Start with setting small, realistic goals that you can do daily to help you establish consistency. You don’t need to jump into running a marathon at the outset!
- Find an “exercise buddy” – a friend, colleague or spouse will motivate you to stay accountable for your weekly routine.
- Analyze your barriers – take some time to reflect on what’s holding you back from getting and/or staying active, and find alternative solutions.
- Prepare for setbacks or obstacles – it’s inevitable that something will come up; a friend’s birthday, an early morning meeting, an illness. If you miss an exercise or two, don’t sweat it. Just stick with it and try again the next day.
A Note from the Professionals
Exercise is a great way to bring relief to symptoms of anxiety and depression but they are not a substitute for medications or therapy. If you exercise regularly but can’t seem to shake that low mood or those repetitive worrisome thoughts, see your doctor or therapist, or call TMS Health and Wellness in Newport Beach at 855-867-5551 ext 795.
Kantor, E. D., Rehm, C. D., Haas, J. S., Chan, A. T., & Giovannucci, E. L. (2015). Trends in Prescription Drug Use Among Adults in the United States From 1999-2012. JAMA, 314(17), 1818-1831.