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Back To Blog > The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise


This post is by Anthony Savage of Sparta Health

  • Exercise as a proven mood booster
  • The importance of outdoor activities
  • An effective anti-anxiety treatment
  • Better sleep & more energy
  • How often should you work out
  • Overcoming obstacles to exercise

As so many of us feel stressed and overwhelmed with the challenges that can come with daily life, it is crucial to search for healthy ways to relieve stress and remain balanced. One of the proven ways to do that is through physical exercise which has been shown to have a positive impact on mental health and general wellbeing.

A Simple Way to Feel Happier

Feeling less stressed and experiencing more joy in our lives is something that we all constantly crave. While it is not possible to completely eliminate stress, problems and challenges, we can definitely learn how to cope with stressful situations and how to improve our mood by performing certain activities.

“Exercise is a scientifically proven mood booster, decreasing symptoms of both depression and anxiety. Physical activity kicks up endorphin levels, the body’s famous “feel good” chemical produced by the brain and spinal cord that produces feelings of happiness and euphoria. Even just moderate exercise throughout the week can improve depression and anxiety, so much so that some doctors recommend trying out an exercise regimen for these conditions before turning to medication.”[1]

Get Outdoors!

As much as working out in the gym or other indoor activities are recommended for our health, there is nothing better than spending time outdoors and we should never forget about the benefits of a daily dose of fresh air.

Outdoors activities such as walking in the park, hiking, playing golf, swimming, cycling, or horse riding bring you closer to nature, help you relax, and reconnect.

City life, no matter how convenient, cannot provide the much-needed break from the noise, crowds, technology, and a large number of stimuli that keep attacking all our senses.

“Hundreds of studies have linked spending time outside to better health outcomes like decreases in incidences of diabetes and cardiovascular mortality, lower blood pressure and heart rate, and better immune system function. In fact, these positive effects are so well-documented that more and more doctors are issuing “nature prescriptions” to help treat a range of conditions from heart disease, hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes, to chronic stress, depression and anxiety, insomnia and even PTSD.” [2]

Just Breathe & Get Moving

Physical exercise is a very effective anti-anxiety treatment and it also helps reduce symptoms of depression. When you are working out, your body starts releasing feel-good endorphins and other natural brain chemicals that can enhance your sense of wellbeing and improve your overall mood.

Exercise also distracts you from your worries so you can break the cycle of negative thoughts that often feed depression and anxiety.

According to most studies, you should do at least 30 minutes (or more) of exercise a day for 3 to 5 days a week if you would like to significantly improve depression or anxiety symptoms. [3] 

How to Sleep Better

Another great benefit of physical activity is its positive impact on our sleep patterns.

Regular exercise improves sleep quality and (together with meditation and some relaxation techniques) is a natural way to regulate our sleep patterns without the need of reaching for medication. It can help you fall asleep more quickly as long as you don’t exercise just before going to bed.

“Recent research indicates that exercise decreases sleep complaints and insomnia in patients. The effects of aerobic exercise on sleep appear to be similar to those of sleeping pills.”[4]

Lack of Energy?

One of the common signs of our times is the constant feeling of tiredness and lack of vital energy necessary to work, live, and fully enjoy our free time and leisure activities.

Well, we have some good news for you. Apart from other beneficial effects on physical and mental health, exercise also increases energy levels. You may be surprised to hear that, but one of the best antidotes to beating fatigue and boosting energy is to exercise more, not less.

“In a study published in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics in 2008, University of Georgia researchers found that inactive folks who normally complained of fatigue could increase energy by 20% while decreasing fatigue by as much as 65% by simply participating in regular, low-intensity exercise.”[5]

How Much is Enough?

Adults (18-64 years) should aim to get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity activity such as brisk walking or 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity activity such as jogging or running and at least 2 days a week of activities that strengthen all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).[6]

Remember! The more physical activity during the week you get, the greater the health benefits.

Overcoming Obstacles

We are usually pretty good at finding excuses not to exercise (lack of time being one of the main reasons). Below you can find eight effective techniques how to overcome those obstacles and start being more active:

  • Add physical activity to your daily routine. Treat it like every other obligatory task on your list until it becomes second nature.
  • Break activity into shorter periods of time, such as 15-minute walks or stretching sessions.
  • Work out with a friend or in a group.
  • Change your routines occasionally. Try a variety of activities. Mix them up.
  • Join a fitness club or take a dance Make sure your workout is fun, not just an obligation.
  • Get a new gadget, piece of equipment or set of workout clothes. It’s a simple yet effective way to enjoy your exercise even more.
  • Choose physical activities that don't depend on good weather or daylight and can be done with minimal investment.
  • Use working out as a time for yourself and a way to reduce stress.

Conclusion

Getting used to physical activity is just like everything else; it takes time and patience to develop a habit of exercising and leading a healthy lifestyle. Give yourself enough space and flexibility to incorporate physical activity into your daily routine and don’t get frustrated if you find it hard to focus or commit to your schedule.

Remember that your mood, sleep, energy levels, stress, resilience, and general mental health will see lots of benefits after you start exercising regularly so keep that goal in mind every time you feel like skipping your workout. Good luck!

About Anthony Savage 

Anthony Savage is the Medical Services Manager at Sparta Health, having joined the team in 2017 and is responsible for the overall operational delivery of our high quality services to our clients. He has a solid background in workplace physiology, health, safety and wellbeing, as well as over 12 years of delivering, and holding senior management positions, for leading rehabilitation and return to work support providers.

He is known for his innovative approach in his design and execution of services and his ability to forging strong relationships.

References:

  1. Walden University, 5 Mental Benefits of Exercise, https://www.waldenu.edu/online-bachelors-programs/bs-in-psychology/resource/five-mental-benefits-of-exercise
  2. Forbes, Why Going Outside Is Good For Your Health, Especially Right Now, https://www.forbes.com/sites/cassidyrandall/2020/04/09/why-going-outside-is-good-for-your-health-especially-right-now
  3. MAYO CLINIC, Depression and anxiety: Exercise eases symptoms, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/depression-and-exercise/art-20046495
  4. The Johns Hopkins University, Exercising for Better Sleep, https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/exercising-for-better-sleep
  5. WebMD, Exercise for Energy: Workouts That Work, https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/exercise-for-energy-workouts-that-work#1
  6. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), How much physical activity do adults need? https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/index.htm
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