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The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise

We’ve heard it all before right? “Exercise is good for you”, “You’ve got to get at least 20 minutes of exercise per day”, and all the rest, yet it may still come as a surprise just how beneficial exercise can be for you if you’re struggling with certain mental health issues, whether it be chronic stress, anxiety, or other mental health issues.

What Are The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise?

Frequent physical activity has been shown in many studies to have a positive effect on different aspects of your mental health. Even if you don’t suffer from any major mental health issues, exercise can still help you gain better memory and cognitive function, improved self-esteem, better quality of sleep, and increased energy. 

Now this of course doesn’t mean you have to perform the most excruciating workouts or run until you pass out, simply putting aside a short amount of time every other day can make all the difference!

5 Mental Health Benefits of Exercise

Exercise has many benefits for all areas of our health, here are the 5 major benefits of exercise for your mental health:

Exercise for Stress

Stress may seem like a harmless thing we all have to deal with from time to time, but chronic stress can lead to some pretty unpleasant symptoms. Don’t take stress for granted, it’s important to address it when you first start seeing the signs appear. The symptoms of stress may be surprising, and can include chest tightness, a racing heart, muscle cramps, as well as insomnia, heartburn, stomach ache, diarrhea, and more. If you recognise these symptoms, take a step back, evaluate where the stress is coming from, and incorporate stress management techniques. Exercise is just one effective way you can relieve stress, as the release of endorphins helps to relax muscles and break up tension in your body.

Exercise for Anxiety

Studies show that exercise can assist in relieving the symptoms of anxiety. If you suffer from anxiety, and you start exercising, you’ll experience a release of endorphins, helping your physical and mental energy to become revitalized, and you may also experience a release of stress and tension. To get the most out of your workout, try incorporating an element of mindfulness; take note of how your body feels when you move, and take note of your immediate surroundings ﹘ Doing so will help stop the flow of negative thoughts, even if just for the moment.

Exercise for Depressive Symptoms

A review suggests that exercise can assist in the management of mild to moderate depressive symptoms in a similar way that antidepressant medication can. Another study showed that a 15 minute run or 1 hour walk helps to reduce the risk of major depression by a whopping 26%, making exercise a powerful way to fight depressive symptoms. Exercise assists in the growth of neurons, and also helps to reduce inflammation.

Exercise for ADHD

When considering natural remedies to help with the management of ADHD, most people probably don’t even think about exercise, and that’s a pity, because exercise has actually been shown to assist in reducing the symptoms of ADHD. The great thing about exercise is that when you start, your brain gets a nice big shot of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, helping you to remain focused and attentive, much like common ADHD medications, such as Ritalin and Adderall.

Exercise for Trauma

Much like anxiety, thoughts related to any traumatic event that you may have experienced can stick in your mind and become a hindrance to everyday life. Full-body exercises in the form of outdoor activities have been shown to help the symptoms of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Consider taking up hiking, rock climbing, or mountain biking if your surrounding environment allows for it, as doing so regularly enough can help you to feel more balanced and grounded.

How to Start Getting Active to Reap the Benefits of Exercise

When you’re suffering from a challenging mental health condition, finding the motivation for exercise can be a chore in itself. To get the most out of a good workout, you’ll need to start by setting goals, because planning is so important in achieving anything. It’s also important that you feel comfortable, so put on something you feel most comfortable getting active in.

Then, simply set your mind to your intention and start small, figure out what time of the day your energy is at its peak, and perhaps start with a quick 15 minute brisk walk ﹘ You’ll be amazed at how much clarity and energy you can gain from just that. Get a friend, family member, or loved one to join you as having a walking buddy may just help motivate you to get out when you really don’t want to.

Happy body, happy mind.

Taking care of your mental health is important, and learning to listen to your body and its needs forms an integral part of this care. We’re all unique, so finding the best exercise for anxiety, depressive symptoms, or other mental health concerns, needs to be handled from an individualistic approach. It’s about finding the right type of exercise for you, whether it be yoga, cycling, or mountain climbing. Do what makes you happy, and the wellbeing of your mind will follow.

One last thing to remember, is that oftentimes a little extra help is needed! Don’t be afraid to reach out to a family member, friend, or professional if you’re feeling overwhelmed.For more information, or to get in touch with a professional, you can check out: www.safmh.org/help-desk/ where you’ll be directed to one of many helplines, like the SA Depression & Anxiety Group Suicide line: +27 (0) 800 567 567 / +27 (0) 11 234 4837

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