7 Mental Health Benefits of an Exercise Routine
The benefits of exercise condensed into a pill would be the biggest scientific breakthrough in all of history
The Mayo Clinic recommends that an average adult should get around 30 minutes of exercise per day.
Maybe this sounds like a lot, who can find that kind of time for exercise every day? But when considering the benefits of regular exercise, 30 minutes per day seems a small price to pay.
I’ve even heard it said that if the benefits of exercise could be condensed into a single pill, it would easily be the biggest scientific breakthrough in all of history.
Of course our focus throughout this article will be to highlight the positive effects to mental health. But before we dive into that, let’s take a quick look at some of the physical benefits of an exercise routine.
- Reduces risk of heart diseases and lowers blood pressure
- Strengthens and maintains muscles and bones
- Helps regulate weight
- Reduces risk of certain cancers
- Improves sexual health
- Increases energy levels
- Reduces chronic pain
And this is not an extensive list by far, regular exercise has far more benefits that could be mentioned.
But you didn’t click this article to learn about physical health. We’re here to flesh out some of the benefits a routine of exercise will have for your mental health!
WHAT IS EXERCISE ANYWAY?
But a term like exercise can of course mean many different things. There’s exercise for strength, flexibility, weight loss, endurance, rehabilitation, etc.
Before we go any further, we need to specify what type of exercise is recommended for improving mental health.
In this regard, one form of exercise has proven itself better than anything else, and that is moderate intensity endurance training.
Endurance training, put simply, means anything that gets your heart rate up and keeps it heightened for a longer period of time. There will also typically be some form of repetitive movement involved.
Some examples could be walking, jogging, swimming, dancing, etc.
Moderate intensity means you’ll want to exercise hard enough to start feeling a bit winded, and you might be sweating a little. If you’re at any point having a hard time catching your breath, you’ve probably been exercising too vigorously.
But in the end you know your body and needs best, so if higher or lower intensity works better for you, definitely go for that.
I also recommend consulting a medical professional, like for example a family doctor before starting any new exercise routine.
1) ENDORPHINS AND THEIR NEAR-IMMEDIATE EFFECTS
A session of exercise can have near-immediate benefits to mental health, with reductions to anxiety, stress, panic, and depression being notable mentions.
The amount of exercise needed to start seeing these effects is a mere 5-10 minutes. This makes it a fantastic tool for dealing with for example the occasional bout of depression or anxiety.
These near-immediate benefits might be explained by the release of endorphins, or as they are sometimes called, feel-good hormones.
Endorphins from a short exercise session can potentially keep you calm and in a stable mood for many hours.
So the next time you’re feeling anxious, stressed, or depressed, try going for a short walk.
2) IT RESTORES AND HEALS THE BRAIN
Exercise appears to have an ability to heal the brain and make it restore itself. If you were to ask me how this happens, the answer would be that I don’t know.
In fact, nobody knows for sure. The only thing we’re certain of is that it does happen.
Take for example the hippocampus, an important part of the brain that is commonly shrunken and damaged in stressed, anxious, and depressed individuals.
Exercise appears to make this region regenerate itself and return to a healthier state.
This restoration of the brain could potentially explain how exercise has such phenomenal and unique long-term benefits for most mental health disorders.
It quite literally causes the brain to regenerate, grow stronger, and become more resilient.
3) YOU CAN EXERCISE AWAY DEPRESSION
A routine of moderate intensity endurance training is a very effective way to protect against, treat, and potentially even cure depression.
We know from scientific studies that exercisers are far less likely to be diagnosed with depression. And we continue to find evidence that adopting an exercise routine can have remarkable effects for anyone currently suffering with depression.
These effects are not of the temporary kind either, it can’t be explained simply by a rush of feel-good hormones.
When an exercise routine causes a reduction in depressive symptoms, these reductions are typically still noticeable months, and even years later.
It seems likely that the regeneration and healing of the brain mentioned earlier causes these long-term effects. And as long as exercise is continued, the brain will keep thriving and restoring itself indefinitely.
4) BUT YOU CAN ALSO EXERCISE AWAY ANXIETY AND STRESS
But it doesn’t just help with depression, exercise has also shown the same ability to protect against, treat, and even cure anxiety and stress disorders.
An exercise routine can dramatically decrease, if not entirely rid you of anxiety and stress.
Similar to the benefits found in depressive disorders, these effects are equally long-term. Those who exercise regularly are also far less likely to be suffering from anxiety or stress.
As this article from Harvard Health Publishing mentions: Among other things, exercise can also reduce muscle tension and divert your attention from what you’re anxious about.
5) YOU CAN FINALLY GET A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP
The best sleep you’ll ever get will be from collapsing into bed after running a half-mile. That’s something I can guarantee, because I’ve tried, and it feels amazing.
Now, it’s almost impossible to overstate the importance of a good night’s sleep. If you’re not getting enough quality sleep, everything else takes a massive hit as well.
Just take a look at what you can expect after a night of poor sleep:
- Lack of motivation
- Increased depression, anxiety, and stress
- Difficulty learning and understanding
- Plus much more…
And it’s definitely not a coincidence that one of the first questions you’re asked in professional therapy is “how do you sleep?”.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a mental disorder that isn’t aggravated by a poor sleep routine.
Exercise helps increase sleep hygiene. It makes it easier to sleep through the night, and makes the sleep you end up getting more rewarding.
Don’t underestimate the power of even a small improvement to your sleep quality. This change will give you more control over your emotional state and mental health.
6) OPPORTUNITIES FOR SOCIAL SUPPORT
Social support is considered a major part of mental health recovery, and exercise is renowned for bringing people together.
This potential for social networking and support makes for a powerful indirect benefit. Most things are more enjoyable with other people after all, and exercise is no exception.
You can for example go for a walk or jog with a friend, join a fitness center, or take yoga classes. It doesn’t really matter what you do, as long as there are opportunities to socialize.
Simply being around others, accomplishing goals and making progress together is enough to boost mood and improve overall mental fitness.
7) YOU LEARN TO LOVE YOURSELF AND BE CONFIDENT
As exercise becomes part of your everyday routine, you’ll come to love the feeling of accomplishment and confidence from finishing a session.
Many people come to know this feeling as downright addictive. It’s actually not uncommon to feel bad whenever you miss a day of exercise once the routine sticks.
Together with the gradual progression as you become faster, stronger, better, and fitter, exercise makes you feel fantastic.
This increased confidence and self-esteem can have a big effect on your mental wellbeing.
DO YOU WANT TO START YOUR OWN EXERCISE ROUTINE?
Maybe you’re interested in starting your own exercise routine, but you’re not sure where to start. I recommend checking out my course The Relaxation Bible, where I cover the topic in detail.
You’ll also find a ton of other tools and techniques to reduce anxiety and stress.
Definitely let me know what you think in the comments below, I love hearing your feedback!