Have you always viewed exercise as a means to lose weight or get in shape? If so, you’re not alone. Many people work out for just the physical benefits. However, people often find themselves losing the motivation to exercise when their mental health is suffering. If you’ve ever skipped a workout when you’re feeling sad or anxious, you could actually be missing an opportunity to turn your mood around.
Why? Many exercise modalities are linked to better mental health, improved sleep and reduced symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression. If you are feeling like your mental health could use a boost, this doesn’t mean you have to force yourself to do an intense workout while you’re feeling low. Instead, opt for an exercise modality that will reduce your stress and improve your mental health to help you ease into a better headspace.
How does exercise improve mental health?
Exercise has been proven to improve mood and reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety. There are several ways in which exercise can improve your mental health, depending on the type of exercise you choose.
Gentle exercise, such as yoga and stretching, focuses on deep breathing and releasing tension in the body. This relaxes the central nervous system and can help to calm anxiety.
Exercising in a group setting allows for regular, positive social interactions which can help to improve mood. More rigorous exercise releases “feel-good” endorphins which improve mood and alleviate symptoms of depression.
Exercise modalities that improve mental health
It’s important to note that all forms of exercise can benefit your physical and mental health. The most important thing is that you choose an exercise modality you enjoy. Here are a few common types of exercise that can benefit your mind and body.
Meditation is an ancient practice to train your attention and awareness, which can reduce stress and improve mental clarity and focus. Meditation is often part of yoga practices, which offers a full body-mind experience in one workout. However, you can practice meditation while walking, running or stretching by using a guided audio meditation or simply employing mindfulness techniques.
If you struggle to focus during meditation, a simple breathwork practice can be equally as beneficial to help reduce stress and anxiety. You can do deep breathing at any time during the day, before or after a workout or as you’re winding down for bed. Deep breathing involves breathing with the diaphragm or belly and allows you to slow down your breathing with intention. Try breathing in for four counts, holding your breath for two counts and breathing out for eight counts.
Research has shown that spending time outdoors can increase attention span and reduce stress, especially if time in nature is replacing screen time. For additional benefits, make your outdoor time active by going for a walk or jog, doing a quick workout outside or stretching. If possible, seek calming outdoor spaces, such as parks or walking paths, over a busy city street.
Aerobic exercise, such as jogging, swimming or riding your bike, may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of relaxation. However, aerobic exercise has long been proven to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Aerobic exercise gets your heart pumping and endorphins flowing which reduces stress and improves mood.
Next time you’re feeling anxious or depressed, try any modality of exercise that feels right for you and see if it helps to improve your mood. For more holistic health and fitness tips, check out the INTEGRIS Health For You blog.
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