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  • Writer's pictureDr. Ashley Jacobson

How Exercise Can Improve Your Mental Health

Exercise can be helpful for managing mood and can be used as a healthy coping skill for many mental health struggles. Oftentimes when dealing with anxiety or depression, exercise can feel like the last thing that you would want to do. Understanding how exercise can help and how to get started may help with motivation and drive to start exercising. Along with therapy and medication, it can help with alleviating symptoms of depression and anxiety.

How is exercise helpful for your mental health?

Gets rid of unhelpful thoughts

Exercise can help you switch your attention away from unwanted or unhelpful thoughts. This happens by getting out of your mind and focusing on your body when you are exercising. This can help you feel better by not spending time focusing on negative thoughts.

Increase the body’s natural “feel good” chemicals.

Hormones such as endorphins and neurotransmitters such as endocannabinoids are released during exercise which improves mood.

Improves Sleep

Regular exercise can lead to better sleep, in particular exercising in the morning or afternoon is optimal for sleep. Poor sleep is a common symptom of many mental health conditions, so improving sleep can improve the way you feel.

Improves Self-esteem

Exercise can lead to greater self-esteem. This typically happens because exercise is often associated with a sense of achievement and with a a sense of achievement comes greater self-confidence and self-esteem. Exercise can also increase your self-control and ability to withstand challenges.

Higher Energy Levels

Exercising gives you more energy. Having exercise be a part of your regular routine will increase your energy levels and you will be able to enjoy more of the things you love doing. Essentially, the more that you do, the greater your energy capacity becomes. Thus, increasing physical activity will reduce feelings of low energy and fatigue.

Lowers Risk of Illness

Regular exercise is strongly associated with a decrease in many health conditions such as diabetes, stroke, and cancer.

Increase Social Interaction

Exercise may give you the chance to meet or socialize with others. Simply exchanging a smile or greeting as you are walking can help to boost your mood.

Improves Overall Brain Function

Exercise has a positive effect on overall mental performance. It is associated with improved concentration, improvements in executive functioning and reduced levels of irritability.

How to get started with exercise?

Before starting a new exercise program, you should check with your doctor to make sure it is safe for you. Talk to your doctor to find out which activities and how much exercise is ok for you. Additionally, if you have any physical obstacles such as an injury or disability that makes it difficult to exercise, you may benefit from seeing a physical therapist or exercise physiologist for guidance.

It is helpful to start by picking an exercise that you would like to try and then pick a time in your day where you can do it and stick with it. You should also identify any potential barriers to exercise and develop strategies to overcome those barriers. Exercising does not need to be structured or formal. Here is a list of some common forms of exercise:

  • running

  • walking

  • swimming

  • cycling

  • yoga

  • martial arts

  • boxing

  • dancing

  • weightlifting

  • team sports (soccer, football, basketball):

Strategies to help with exercising

It can be easy to put off exercise, prioritize other things, or simply forget about your plan. To help hold you responsible, you can plan to exercise with a friend. Additionally, setting an alarm to remind you to exercise can hold you accountable. If using a phone alarm, it can be helpful to set it to automatically repeat every day or every other day at the same time. Getting into a routine by exercising at the same time everyday will make it easier to complete the exercise. Further, attaching exercise to a particular part of the day, such as walking every evening after dinner can make it easier to remember.

When To Seek Additional Support

While exercise is a healthy coping skill to use when experiencing anxiety or depression, it does not always reduce all mental health symptoms. Typically exercise paired with therapy is the best combination when dealing with symptoms of depression, anxiety, ADHD, etc. A therapist can provide you with additional strategies to help with coping and provide support in dealing with difficult emotions.

At Balanced Minds Psychology & Wellness we specialized in assisting individuals navigating life’s challenges. To learn more about me and the services I provide, checkout my profile. If you are ready to start the therapy process, contact us today to start a free consultation.


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