by Janet Whyte, LCSW
It is no secret that regular exercise has numerous health benefits. Aside from the more obvious physical benefits, there are many ways in which exercise is found to improve mental health. Exercise is proven to help decrease symptoms of anxiety, depression, improve the body’s ability to respond to stress, increase self-esteem, improve sleep, and improve memory. Recently, a study published in the Journal of Physiology found that six minutes of high-intensity cycling could delay the onset of neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.
Exercise releases endorphins, or “feel-good” brain chemicals that can enhance your sense of wellbeing and therefore reduce feelings of depression and anxiety. Exercise can help improve sleep, and this in turn has a positive impact on mood, attention, and memory. Additionally, mindfulness can be incorporated into your exercise routine as you pay closer attention to the feeling of your feet hitting the ground, the pace of your breathing, or the feeling of your muscles as they are working hard. When you are focused in on your body during a workout, this may help shift your focus away from any anxious thoughts.
It can be helpful to carve out time for exercise throughout the week, so that you can plan ahead and prioritize your goals. Some people may not enjoy all types of exercise, which is why it is important to consider all of the different options to find one that works for you. If you are reading this and thinking “exercise is just not for me”, it can be helpful to remember that many new experiences feel uncomfortable at first, even ones we end up enjoying! Listening to music or bringing a friend along with you could help make the experience even more fun.
If you would like to further explore the benefits of exercise for mental health, your therapist would be happy to continue the conversation! Your therapist can help explore any barriers you have towards engaging in exercise and help you learn how to overcome them to achieve your physical and mental health goals.