Move Your Body, Boost Your Mood: Exercise for Mental Health
In addition, engaging in frequent physical activity positively impacts multiple functions that directly affect mental health. Endorphins are the specific hormones created during exercise, and as they spread, they actively decrease stress and pain while improving mood and mental states.
While frequent exercise does not come naturally to everyone, it is vital to remember that this is an effort that should be made for longevity purposes as well as the overall quality of one’s life. Mental resistance to exercise is common and can be attributed to quite a few different causes.
Some of the most frequently occurring reasons for this disinterest are lack of motivation and fear of failure. In addition, many people cling to perceived thoughts about themselves, such as being uncoordinated, lacking physical ability, or even having inadequate genetics. This is a dangerous cycle to fall into as it can become an easy way to rationalize avoiding other healthy habits as well.
Fortunately, there are ways to overcome these mental blocks and achieve a healthy mind and body. Beginning with minor forms of movement like long walks, jumping rope, or yoga can be a great way to acclimate the body to exercise slowly. As these forms of working out become easier, slowly progress towards more challenging workouts.
Another way to kickstart an exercise routine is by making an active mindset shift. Focusing on “I get to work out” rather than “I have to work out” is a small but powerful way to view it through a lens of gratitude rather than punishment.
Finally, becoming educated on the specific benefits of exercise for the mind can provide increased motivation and incentive.
Below are some of the most powerful ways in which exercise can improve mental health.
Roughly ⅓ of the American population has been shown to exhibit signs of both anxiety and depression as of 2021. This can be attributed to various causes, including the pandemic, social media, socioeconomic factors, and lack of exercise. During the covid-19 pandemic, mental health issues increased while physical activity decreased. The closing of gyms and the fear of being around others drastically decreased the amount of movement Americans were getting. The simultaneous shifts in these factors are no coincidence.
Decreased Anxiety and Depression
Decreased physical activity has been directly linked to increased mental health struggles. Similarly, increased physical activity is linked to decreased mental health struggles. Reasons to attribute to this are the mood-boosting endorphins that are created, the ability to distract the mind from worry and fear, improved cognitive function, and the overall shift to a positive coping mechanism rather than a negative form such as alcohol.
Increased Self-EsteemThe way that we view ourselves impacts our lives daily. Self-esteem impacts our perceived success and satisfaction with life. The belief that the self is strong, capable, and successful contributes to a greater level of psychological well-being.
In contrast, a self-view consisting of negative traits such as incompetent, unsuccessful, and weak is correlated with a low level of psychological well-being. When regular exercise is part of a person's routine, they are shown to experience higher levels of self-esteem. The reasoning behind this is that exercise is often responsible for a strong body, physical acceptance, and a general belief in ability.
When we believe we are capable, our sense of self is increasingly positive. Having high self-esteem is linked to the ability to handle adversity, a strong set of coping skills, and an overall sense of security. These three factors are directly linked to positive mental health. By simply engaging in daily movement, the way we view ourselves can shift dramatically, and due to neuroplasticity, we can rewire our brains to see ourselves through a positive lens.
Stronger ResilienceMental toughness is the mind's ability to overcome difficulties without experiencing severe and lasting effects. Training the brain to become resilient has significant payoffs for mental health in general. One of the most impactful ways to build resilience is by engaging in challenging exercises. The more we expose ourselves to difficult situations, the more the brain can adapt to and overcome them.
One way to practice this is by pushing the body physically. An example of this would be beginning a running routine. A non-resilient brain is likely to reject the idea of running a mile because it would be uncomfortable and potentially painful. As the mile becomes regularly run, the brain adapts and realizes that obstacles can, in fact, be overcome.
Continuing to increase the level of difficulty is key to continual growth. As mental toughness increases, the mind is better equipped to take on challenges of all facets. This includes job loss, life change, loss of a loved one, and so many others. By building a strong mind, we become less susceptible to mental health struggles that could otherwise feel impossible to survive.
Decreased StressStress relief is arguably one of the most well-known advantages of exercising. Decreasing the level of cortisol in the body while simultaneously increasing the level of endorphins makes physical activity a powerful way to improve stress levels.
The long-term effects of stress have a damaging effect on both the body and mind. In fact, prolonged stress has the ability to damage the brain permanently. Specifically, it disrupts the regulation of synapses, which play a massive role in neurological function.
Stress can quite literally shrink the brain as well. Cortisol has been linked to shrinkage in areas of the brain that control memory, emotional regulation, and metabolism. By engaging in regular and vigorous exercise, the damages of stress can be counteracted and neutralized.
Improved Gut HealthRecent research has shown just how significant gut health is for mental health. In fact, scientists now refer to the gut as a second brain. The reasoning for this is that 95% of a person's serotonin is created in the gut. Serotonin is responsible for mood, happiness, digestion, bone health, and so much more.
Because of this, it is no surprise to learn that having a healthy gut plays a massive role in overall mental health. Exercise directly affects gut health for a few reasons.
First, it promotes diverse bacteria within the gastrointestinal tract. Having diverse bacteria is crucial for overall gut health as each kind of bacteria plays a unique role in the body's health.
Exercise also improves gut health by increasing the amount of existing positive bacteria in the gut. Not all bacteria are created equal, and because of this, it is crucial to promote the growth of healthy gut bacteria to override harmful bacteria.
Making time for daily exercise is one of the best things you can do for your body and mind. Although it may be difficult at times, remember that the positive aspects of physical activity improve the quality of life for those that make the choice to engage in it. Boost your mood, build your resilience, and become stronger both mentally and physically via exercise.
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Keywords: Mental health; Exercise; Exercise for mental health; Mood boosting; Exercise benefits
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01 February, 2023