How Physical Activity can Impact your Mental Health

Have you ever finished a really hard workout and felt great? Physically, you were probably sweating, your muscles might have been shaking, and you were probably convinced you were dying (or is that just me after a tough workout?). Mentally, however, it’s likely you felt great. You felt at ease. You felt like you could accomplish anything. All of your worries were gone. 

I have suffered from an anxiety disorder since 10th grade of high school. Over the years, I have tried many different medications and techniques to manage this. It wasn’t until many years of trying to figure out how to manage my anxiety that I found out the benefits that physical activity has on disorders such as anxiety and depression. My anxiety is now manageable without any medications and I am in the best shape I have ever been in! Like always, though, everyone is different. I am not recommending that you stop taking your medications and start working out instead. It’s important that you talk to your doctor before making any changes!   It took me a while to get to this point in my life and I have had a lot of conversations with my doctor about what’s best for me. Whether you keep your medical treatment the same or change things up – taking time to consider your physical well-being is always beneficial and important.

Why does physical activity make you feel better? There are many articles and website resources about why this may be (which I will list at the end) but to sum them up, the main reasons are:

  • Distractions: when you’re working out, you aren’t thinking about all of the things that might make you anxious or depressed. You’re thinking about your workout!
  • Increases blood supply to your brain: An increase in blood supply means more oxygen and nutrients. We all know that exercise gets your blood pumping, but did you know it gets it pumping in the brain too?
  • Creation of new neurons in the brain: Studies have shown that disorders such as depression can affect neuron production in certain parts of the brain. Studies have also shown that exercise can increase the production of neurons. 
  • Tension reduction: Moving your body reduces built up tension you have from stress.
  • Boosts physical energy: Sure, working out makes you tired for a bit, but it actually boosts your overall energy levels.
  • Helps sleep: Working out helps to regulate your sleep cycles. 
  • Higher self-esteem: The more you workout, the better you feel about yourself.
  • Better memory and concentration: Endorphins are released when you workout. These same endorphins help with memory and concentration on tasks.

So, now you know that working out might help manage your stress, anxiety, depression, etc. You might have questions now like how much exercise? How do I get started? What kind of exercise can I do?

How much exercise should I do to reap the benefits for my mental health? The answer is any. Any physical activity is better than none. Something as simple as a short walk will give you some of the benefits listed above. The more you do, however, the stronger and more consistent these benefits may be. According to this article from Psychology Today, studies show that 3-4 sessions of 45-60 minute aerobic exercise a week can have considerable benefits to depression symptoms. 

How do I get started? Start slow and gradually increase your physical activity. Make sure you don’t jump in too fast! You don’t want to injure yourself or overdo it. As always, if there are any concerns or you have other health issues, consult your doctor. 

What kind of exercise can I do? Make sure you participate in activities you enjoy. If going to a gym isn’t your thing, try going for a hike instead! There are many different options available to you. You could also try and find some fun kickboxing or dance workout videos on YouTube!

If you make it enjoyable and make it a habit, you should start to see both physical and mental benefits!

Good Resources:

How Your Mental Health Reaps the Benefits of Exercise

The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise

How to Start Exercising and Stick to It

10 Best YouTube Workout Channels to Try During Quarantine