Mental health is seriously important – 43.8 million people in the US and a whopping 83 million in Europe will suffer from mental illness each year. Exercise has long been shown to improve symptoms of mental illness, and even if you don’t suffer yourself, everyone can benefit from the brain-boosting effects of exercise.
How exactly does exercise help?
It may sound ridiculous – surely simple exercise can’t have that much of an effect of mental health? Well, it turns out it can. There are lots of mental health advantages that come from exercise, but we’ll list the most important here:
- Reduces stress – something we could all benefit from! You can probably feel how stress takes a toll on your body, you’ll often get tense shoulders and a clouded mind when you’re feeling stressed out. Exercise not only lets you blow off some steam (punching bags anyone?), but it also has a positive effect on your nervous system, actually improving your body’s response to stress!
- Improves brainpower – in many ways, in fact! Exercise has been shown to actually stimulate the production of new brain cells, giving you a memory boost. Exercise also fights against cognitive decline that’s associated with ageing. Finally, if you’re ever lacking inspiration, go for a quick workout! Exercise has been shown to improve creativity as well as clearing your mind.
- Increases energy, and you’ll sleep like a log. Having a good exercise routine in the mornings will actually energise you for the day to come! Use it to boost your productivity in the morning. It also aids sleep, so if you suffer from insomnia, or just have some funky sleep patterns, exercise can send you right to sleep. Try yoga in the evenings to promote relaxation before you hop under the sheets!
- Has antidepressant effects. Studies show that exercise is as effective as antidepressant medication for mild depressive symptoms. This happens for a number of reasons – the growth of new brain cells for one, as well as the release of endorphins – the feel-good chemicals in your brain! The great thing about exercise as treatment for depression is the lack of side effects.
What kind of exercise is best?
Aerobic activity is a great choice for boosting positive mental health through exercise. Try walking or running for the easiest options – all you need is a pair of shoes and somewhere to go! The elevation in your heart rate from aerobic exercise is what floods your brain with all those feel-good endorphins that’ll boost your mood. For an even bigger boost, try these exercises outdoors. The fresh air and potentially lovely sights can relax you even more, as well as improving your overall sense of well-being.
Swimming is another great option – taking a dip not only refreshes your body and mind, but it’s also a great form of exercise in general. It’s non-weight-bearing, so it’s perfect for those with injuries too. Next time you’re feeling the stress at work, try heading to the pool to clear your mind!
Finally, yoga. There’s a reason it’s one of the best de-stressors! Not only do you stretch out those tense muscles, but the mindfullness and meditation that come along with yoga allow you to soothe your mind at the same time. I know a few friends who were trying to get into the police, and for Police Test Prep they did yoga. They tell me it really improved their ability to balance themselves for their exams.