mental health and physical activity

The Correlation Between Mental Health and Physical Activity

Exercise is good for the body – it’s a well-known fact. It’s been well established that it can improve your endurance, help you build muscle, and lose weight. It’s even been proven to increase longevity. A great many people, though, exercise regularly because it offers them a sense of well-being. The connection between mental health and physical activity is a powerful one. 

Exercise Has Significant Emotional Benefits

Many people experience poor mental health ten percent of every single month. Mental health and physical activity have been shown to be linked, though, and exercise has been proven to change the equation. In one study published in The Lancet, those who exercised regularly saw a 40% drop in the number of poor mental health days they experienced each month. Over the years, a number of studies have confirmed that exercise is a potent remedy for people who want to improve their mental health. What benefits can exercise provide for you? 

  1. Fight Depression: Many studies reveal that regular exercise can improve mild to moderate depression. A study from Harvard revealed that running for 15 minutes a day or walking for an hour a day lowered the risk of depression by 26%. Exercise doesn’t just prevent depression, though. It’s also been found to prevent relapse for those who already suffer from depression. Exactly how exercise works as a depression fighter isn’t fully understood, but it is believed that physical activity decreases inflammation, promotes nerve growth, and releases endorphins- potent chemicals that are known to reduce pain, improve mood and induce a sense of wellbeing and calm. Moreover, it serves as a distraction, permitting the individual to seek some quiet time from the repetitive cycle of negative thoughts that bolster depression.
  2. Lower Anxiety: Exercise also is an effective remedy for anxiety; when performed regularly, it is known to ease stress, relieve tension, boost mental and physical energy, and enhance overall well-being through the release of endorphins. This ‘happy’ substance is known to block the incessant negative thoughts in the brain and relieve anxiety.
  3. Alleviate Stress: Stress is a part of life, but when it becomes chronic and uncontrolled, it can create havoc. Stress may cause both physical and mental problems including tensing of the muscles, headaches, neck pain, chest tightness, pounding pulse, lack of sleep, diarrhea, or even stomach cramps. The discomfort caused by these symptoms in turn induces more stress, creating a vicious cycle between the body and the brain. One great way to break this vicious cycle is to exercise. Besides releasing endorphins, exercise can help relieve tension and ease muscle tension. As your body starts to feel better, so will your brain.
  4. Mitigate PTSD: Evidence suggests that individuals with PTSD can relieve their symptoms by regular exercise. Individuals with PTSD develop intense feelings and disturbing thoughts about their past traumatic experiences. They may relive the traumatic event through nightmares or flashbacks and at the same time develop fear, sadness, or anger. Many feel estranged and detached from society in general. Research shows that individuals with PTSD can unlock their nervous system through exercise and come out of the immobilization stress response that is typical of PTSD. Exercises that engage the extremities and involve cross movements such as walking, swimming, jogging, dancing, or weight training can help reduce the mental symptoms of PTSD. 
  5. Create Cognitive Benefits: Today many people have information overload either at college or at work, and often this results in diminished cognitive health. It makes it tough to focus, concentrate, or make decisions. Countless studies show that regular exercise can unclog the mind and help improve memory, thinking, concentration, and ability to make decisions. Further, the cognitive benefits of exercise are durable and often last many years.
  6. Improve Sleep: Regular exercise is a great sleeping aid. It can be a bit of a double-edged sword, though. Exercise too close to bedtime, and you may feel too excited to sleep. The key is to exercise several hours before bedtime so your body has returned to baseline functioning
  7. Build Resilience: Physical activity is known to build resilience, enhancing your immune system and building confidence. Because exercise is so often about setting and achieving goals, you get a sense of achievement when you work out regularly, which helps to build your personal sense of stamina. 

Getting Started

Most people find it hard to motivate themselves to exercise regularly, and that’s even harder when you’re struggling with stress, depression, or anxiety. If you’re having trouble getting started, these tips can help. Mental health and physical activity can be a tough balance.

  • Start small: Go slow and start small. Set realistic goals that are achievable. 
  • Exercise when your energy levels are high: Some people find that they have the energy to exercise in the morning and others find it easier to exercise in the evening. Pick a time that is convenient for you. 
  • Pick an exercise you like: To ensure that you will continue to do the exercise, choose an activity that you like.
  • Get comfortable: When exercising, the key is to be comfortable and select an outdoor setting that you like. This can be your favorite park or a scenic path.
  • Reward yourself: Every now and then reward yourself for completing an activity that makes you feel good. The reward may be a fresh smoothie, watching your favorite TV show, or even enjoying a treat like ice cream.
  • Workout with a friend: One of the best ways to enjoy exercise is to do it with a friend. This way you can motivate and look after each other.
  • Move around: If you’re not sure when you’re going to have time to fit in your next workout, you may want to consider a stationary bike or yoga at home. Even simple movements like gardening, cleaning, or mowing can help you get started. 

How Much Exercise is Enough?

If you’re looking to reap the mental health benefits of exercise, you may wonder how much is just right. Understand that any exercise is better than no exercise. Even regular walking every day will offer you the benefits that you want. Shoot for movement at least 4-5 times a week. Try to make each session between 30-60 minutes. If you are just starting to exercise, you can start small, but gradually increase the time. 

If you’re ready to see the connection between mental health and physical activity, all it takes is to start moving! Contact us today if you’re looking for a health and wellness program.


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