Exercise not only makes for a healthy body, but it is also a powerful tool in taking care of your mental health.
By that, we mean, being in such a mental state that you are not paralyzed by anxiety, stress, depression and hormonal irregularities.
A caveat, though: we do not in any way suggest that you could replace consultation with a medical professional and taking your prescribed medications with exercise.
If you have existing conditions, talk to your doctor before practicing any of the exercises in this guide.
With that, let’s go dive right in and better understand how exercise can help your state of mind and how easy you can incorporate it into your everyday life.
The Effects Of Physical Exercise On Your Mind
The increased oxygen intake brought by exercise is not just for disease prevention. It also improves the brain’s performance.
This is because the brain is the organ in our body that consumes the most oxygen, and exercise gets more blood – and oxygen – pumping to your brain.
When you exercise, your heart beats faster.
The heavy beating of the heart pumps more blood into your brain, thereby bringing it more oxygen that is contained in your bloodstream.
Just like a car that’s fuelled and well-maintained, when the brain is provided with the abundant oxygen it needs, it is primed to function at its best.
Aside from oxygen, exercise also ups the level of BDNF or brain-derived neurotrophic factor, in the body. BDNF is a protein that is responsible for protecting and repairing brain cells. Naturally, healthy brain cells equate to better brain function.
Furthermore, research has shown that exercise revs up the neurons in the part of your brain called the hippocampus, which is in charge of learning and memory.
The stimulation of this part of your brain is not only beneficial for students who could use the mental boost but is especially helpful for older adults because it tends to shrink with age.
Other body organs made healthier through exercise also ultimately affect the brain since our whole body is a complex and beautiful system.
Some examples of those conditions we don’t usually automatically associate with our brain functions include high blood sugar levels and cholesterol.
When addressed, or at least managed, these also form part of factors that would enable optimal brain functions.
The most interesting thing that links exercise to mental health is the release of endorphins.
When you exercise, your body produces hormones called endorphins, and these chemicals are responsible for that “high” – the amazing feeling that comes with a good work out.
These chemicals can boost your mood.
Although not yet fully studied or proven, some advocates of exercise also believe that aside from the physiological benefits, some of the benefits could also be psychological.
Have you ever experienced being cooped up in your office or study area all day, and your brain doesn’t seem to be working anymore?
Then you take a quick walk and you suddenly come back sharp and refreshed?
Some exercise advocates believe that that break and change of scenery brought about by that quick exercise break also does wonders!
Some more others believe that the simple act of exercising in groups lifts the mood due to the beneficial effects of positive social interaction.
It’s not surprising that exercise has been proven time and again in numerous research to be beneficial for those with mental conditions.
In a study, it was discovered that patients afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease who do moderate exercise daily have better glucose metabolism compared to those who have a sedentary lifestyle. Glucose metabolism is a sign of a healthy brain.
Exercise isn’t just good for depression, it can also help those who are experiencing panic disorders, social phobia, agoraphobia, and depression. It is linked to lower rates of substance abuse in individuals who exercised for at least an hour every week.
So how much time do you have to spend working out?
Do you then need to work out and train like a competing athlete in order to reap the benefits of exercise for your brain and mind?
The answer is a resounding “No”!
Simply allocating thirty minutes of moderate exercise, three days a week, is the minimum for a healthy mind.
And what’s even greater news for busybodies is that this chunk of thirty minutes need not be spent in one go.
They can be further cut down into three ten-minute segments throughout the day.
Experts say that whether you exercise for thirty minutes straight or break it down across the day does not affect the benefits.
The Best Exercises For Mental Health
Exercise #1: Take a walk
Any form of physical activity can help your mental health, but the simplest and the easiest to do is walking.
It doesn’t require any equipment, and you don’t have to pay gym fees to do it. You don’t even have to spend hours walking.
Even a 10-minute walk can do wonders to your mood and mental health.
This might just be the best way to ease yourself into a more active, healthier life because it’s sustainable.
Walking isn’t punishing, except perhaps if you have a severe mobility condition.
It lets you move around without subjecting yourself to harsh goals, so you get to just enjoy the experience.
Besides. It’s a low-impact exercise so you’re not likely to ruin your joints.
The best part is that it’s a form of cardio exercise, which, according to science, is the best kind of exercise for improving alertness and getting a mood boost.
That you get to enjoy beautiful scenery is a wonderful bonus.
Exercise #2: Go For A Swim
If you love the water, this is the one activity you should seriously consider getting yourself into swimming.
Swimming gives you the benefits of cardio exercise and strength training, so you get the best of both worlds.
In fact, research shows that it’s as relaxing as yoga, allowing you to get into a meditative state.
Part of the reason is that water can be calming. In fact, for some time now, human beings have always used water to distress.
Remember how good you feel during a bath or a shower – that’s how powerful water can be in getting you into a better mental state.
This relaxing effect could be because when you swim, you need to focus on the strokes you make and your breathing, so your body automatically tunes out the noise in your surroundings.
And just like walking, it’s a low-impact activity. If you don’t overdo it, you’re not likely to be causing damage to your joints.
It also burns plenty of calories, so if you’re looking to lose weight, this is a great activity.
Exercise #3: Calm Your Mind With Yoga
This might seem like an obvious choice, but no list about the best physical activity for mental health is complete without yoga.
It’s blowing up because it just works.
Yoga is very soothing. It’s the ultimate exercise for self-love and touching base with who you are.
Doing yoga is like giving yourself a massage.
It allows you to focus and shake off your worries with breathing techniques.
It makes you feel empowered, especially when you are able to connect your body, your breath, and your thoughts.
The body’s relaxation response is backed by science – your focus on your breath triggers a parasympathetic response from your nervous system, allowing your body to wind down and get into a state of rest.
Contrary to popular belief, yoga is not always some intense exercise that requires you to be insanely flexible.
There are poses that promote stillness and there are some that promote movement.
You can start slow with the basic poses and salutation exercises and even develop your own flow.
Yoga is all about moving at your own pace, which is a mindset that can help those suffering from anxiety.
Exercise #4. Ride A Bike
If you love speed and the outdoors, there are few things that can beat the feeling of the wind on your face – and that, and more, is what cycling can give you.
Just like any form of exercise, this causes a rush of endorphins and other happy hormones like dopamine and serotonin, giving you a mood boost.
Cycling has a relaxing effect on the brain brought by the regular and uniform movement.
It’s similar to swimming in that sense. The rhythmic movement has a stabilizing effect on mental and physical function.
Cycling also promotes positivity and thoughts of well-being.
Cycling regularly can help boost your confidence and self-esteem.
Doing it regularly also keeps your circadian rhythm in sync and help you sleep better.
Exercise #5. Dance like nobody’s watching.
Dancing can make you feel good. Nietzsche, of all people, once said that a day spent without dancing is a wasted day.
Research showed that dance can help relieve anxiety disorders.
Those who can dance the tango are known to have lower stress levels.
In fact, for some people, it’s more effective than medication.
This isn’t to say that you should not take your medication. You should – but you should also give dancing a try.
Get up on your feet, and just let go. Don’t worry.
There’s no right or wrong way to dancing. So long as you’re not causing physical discomfort to yourself, you should be fine.
Also Read : How to Start, Maintain & Maximize Exercising
Easing Exercise Into Your Life
Sometimes, it can be challenging to make an abrupt transition into highly active life.
It can also be challenging to sustain such a new lifestyle.
In such cases, you can gradually incorporate simple things that would help keep you on the right path.
Here are some easy and practical tips:
- Make a formal exercise plan. Plot your exercise time against your schedule for each day. That way, you can anticipate when you will exercise and will not be prone to forget it, especially in the early days when you’re not yet used to exercise being part of your routine.
- Start the day with exercise. Some people find that they are less likely to procrastinate on exercising if they do it first thing in the morning. Simply set your alarm 20 – 30 minutes earlier and get to it. This way, you’ll also get to start the day on a healthy note.
- Change the way you travel to work. Some people who believe that they simply don’t have the time to exercise will be surprised that it is a block of time definitely available to them twice a day. Instead of sitting in a car or bus, why not walk, jog, or cycle to work instead?
- Maximize your lunch hour. Check out nearby gyms. Or you could simply stroll around the block. This will definitely combat the post-lunch slump and boost your productivity in the afternoon.
- Groove to exercise videos – Stay at home moms and home-based workers, listen up! You don’t need to leave your house to squeeze in a workout. Look for an encouraging YouTube channel and try to get in on their fitness programs.
- Exercise while doing errands – This technique will not only hit two birds with one stone, it might also save you gas money. If your destinations are quite far, you could also explore the idea of getting off the bus or train one station away and walk the rest of the way. Parking in a farther spot also works.
- Take the stairs – This is a very easy way to incorporate exercise in your daily routine without much change, and without you even noticing it. Simply climbing up or down 2 – 3 flights of stairs is already a good start!
- Break up screen time – You don’t need to give up those TV shows or series you have grown to love. Why not do a series of planks or jumping jacks in between each episode?
- Show a dog some love – Walking a dog is a quick and inexpensive way to exercise while making a furry friend happy.
- Join your kids in the playground – This tip is not only healthy for you and your kids but also for your family’s love tank as well.
The Final Say So!
We hope that this article inspired you to embrace exercise and make it part of your daily life.
With so many benefits for your mind and body, so many exercise regime options to choose from, and so many simple tweaks you can do to your day to accommodate exercise, it would be a shame not to give it a try.
So, go ahead. Move it, spin it, walk it, groove to it. Get moving, have fun, and reap the benefits!