Exercise is not just about muscle size and getting fitter, regular aerobic exercise such as jogging, walking or cycling has shown to have clear benefits on both mental and physical health. Exercise can improve mental health by reducing anxiety and depression as well as improving self-esteem and cognitive function.
Exercise and Depression
Exercise promotes changes in the brain including enhancing neural growth and reducing inflammation. Endorphins are also released which help to improve mood by relieving stress and reducing pain. As well as this, exercise can become a distraction and break up the cycle of negative thoughts caused by depression.
Exercise and Anxiety
Regular exercise can relieve tension and stress and boost physical and mental energy. By paying attention to the exercise, rather than zoning out, mindfulness can be practiced. Practicing mindfulness can help to break up the flow of constant worries, reducing levels of anxiety.
Exercise and Stress
Stress can cause your muscles to become tense, leaving you with back or neck pain and headaches. Reducing levels of stress is important in order to be able to function effectively during day-to-day activities. Exercise can help to reduce stress by releasing endorphins as well as relaxing muscles and relieving tension throughout the body.
Other Mental Health Benefits
Sharper memory – the endorphins that are released during exercise also help you to concentrate and feel mentally sharp.
Higher self-esteem – Regular exercise can aid in increasing fitness and muscle size, as well as reducing your body weight. This increases your value of self-worth and you will feel better about your appearance, whilst feeling a sense of achievement.
Improve quality of sleep – Regular exercise can help to regulate sleep patterns, improving your quality of sleep each night. If exercising in the evening, try to do more gentle exercise such as yoga.
Increase social support – Exercising in groups or with a team can increase your social support through meeting people regularly. Having more people around you can help to improve your mood as well as providing you with more people to talk to and help with your mental health.
When starting to exercise regularly, ensure you do not overdo it and work too hard too soon. Increasing exercise loads suddenly can lead to overuse injuries which could reduce your motivation levels. Your motivation is also likely to change throughout your exercise programme, so changing your exercises regularly can help to reduce this.
It can also be beneficial to keep a mood diary so you can track your emotions and your exercise, to see if your symptoms are changing. However, any mental health issues should be consulted with your GP.