Everyone knows that exercise is a key part of a healthy lifestyle. It helps keep the heart and lungs in shape, helps manage blood sugar, increases strength and metabolic rate, and so much more. But did you know there is a strong connection between physical exercise and mental health as well? It’s true!
If you are facing anxiety, depression, stress, or other mental maladies, a prescription for physical exercise may be just what the doctor ordered!
What are Some of the Health Benefits of Exercise?
Experts show solid evidence that your health is improved through physical activity on a number of fronts. The benefits extend to areas such as:
- Weight control
- More energy
- Enhanced endurance
- Better sleep
- Improved mood
- Stress relief
- Improved health markers
- Increased focus (even for those with ADHD)
- Help for trauma survivors
- Increased immune function
Improvements in all of these areas mean a better sense of control over one’s health, greater self-esteem, and a stronger sense of happiness and purpose.
Why is Exercise So Beneficial For Your Mental Health?
According to scientists, exercise, especially aerobic exercise, is an effective way to boost mood and reduce anxiety. Because your circulation is vastly improved through exercise, your body benefits in several ways.
For example, your mood is improved because the increased circulation positivity affects the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, allowing you to better deal with stress. The HPA axis also influences your limbic system, which is responsible for your mood and levels of motivation. It also communicates with the amygdala, which generates emotions, including fear and stress.
Lastly, exercise and circulation benefit the hippocampus which, in turn, is a catalyst when it comes to boosting your mood.
Which Types of Exercise Are Best For Your Mental Health?
1. Any exercise—yes, any form of exercise is going to be better than none when it comes to the best physical exercise for your mental health. There are so many benefits to exercising, it’s difficult to comprise a list that encompasses them all. But, the mere fact that you’re getting up, getting out, and doing something positive for yourself will yield untold physical and mental benefits. That said, there are some forms of exercise that really raise the bar on mental health benefits.
2. Walking—walking is one of the best exercises you can do, bar none. What’s more, walking also has the ability to improve your mental fitness. Due to the nature of aerobic exercise in general, it lends itself to a boost in mood. Getting your blood circulating on a regular basis will help you clear the cobwebs, give you time to think, get the creative juices flowing, and boost your health across the board.
3. Cycling—yes, biking ranks up there with the best exercises for mental health. Why? Because, first of all, biking gets your blood pumping. Aerobic activity is important when it comes to your circulation. The more you can get your blood pumping, the better you can distribute the feel-good hormones (endorphins). It also helps you spread serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine through your system, all of which promote an elevation in mood and well-being.
Not only does cycling get your circulation going quickly, the effort required to bike helps you reduce stress and levels of the “stress hormone” cortisol. You’ll feel better, have more energy and less stress, and in turn, will burn extra calories and even get more restful sleep. It’s an all-around win.
Cycling also allows your mind to relax since it requires you to focus on the task at hand. Just like runners can experience a “runner’s high,” cyclists can also experience a “cycling high,” as you detach from your day and allow the memory-enhancing, creativity-boosting hormones to kick in.
4. Team sports—exercise combined with camaraderie is a potent prescription when it comes to physical exercise and your mental health. Learning how to connect with others and strategize toward achieving a common goal is central for your mental health. Communicating and communing with your teammates can help you fulfill your social needs and the desire for human interaction.
Being part of a team also gives you a naturally occurring built-in network of friendship and support. Having a support system in place is vital when it comes to your mental health. A team allows you to both give and receive support. Studies even show that those who play sports on a team are less likely to suffer from depression and anxiety.
5. Resistance training—yes, improved mental health is yet another way that you can benefit from resistance training. Not only will you increase your strength and functional abilities, but you’ll feel more autonomy in your everyday life. Being able to lift those groceries into the car by yourself or open that jar will leave you feeling strong and empowered.
Your weightlifting efforts will also help you achieve a toned body and gain a sense of control over your body and even your life. And that lends itself to happiness and a positive mental outlook.
Whichever exercise you choose, one thing is certain: The benefits of exercise for mental health are real and tangible. So, just choose something you enjoy doing, and move your body for at least 25 minutes (and no more than 60 minutes) 3 to 5 days a week. Interestingly, a 45-minute exercise session appears to be most effective for improved mental health.