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3 Ways How Exercise Improves Mental Health

We all know exercise is good for the body. 

Regular aerobic activity, for instance, can increase your strength and stamina, ward off illness, reduce health risks1, and prevent and improve health problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes and arthritis.2 

But what about mental health, an important component of your overall well-being? Regular exercise can also boost your mood, easing tension and anxiety and promoting relaxation.1

Let’s find out more about 3 ways how exercise improves mental health.

1. Exercise Helps Ease Depression and Anxiety

If you’re feeling sad or anxious, you may not feel like working out. But physical activity can ease those symptoms and help you feel better. 

The links between depression, anxiety and exercise aren’t entirely clear—but exercise does help and may even keep those issues from returning once you get on the road to better health. Here’s how:

  • Regular exercise releases feel-good endorphins, natural brain chemicals that can enhance your sense of well-being.2
  • It can increase blood circulation to the brain, which is positive.3
  • It helps by taking your mind off worries, distracting you from negative thoughts that can increase those feelings of depression and anxiety.2
  • It has a positive influence on what’s called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which helps the body fight stress.3

Exercise is also a healthy coping strategy, a better option than some other interventions like turning to alcohol, which can only make symptoms worse.2 As a bonus, a good workout can improve sleep, and we all know lack of sleep makes everyone feel worse.

Of note, those with mental illness are at risk of chronic conditions such as diabetes, brought on by a sedentary lifestyle, or by the use of medication. That makes exercise an important part of a wellness plan.3

2. Exercise Improves Self Esteem

Exercise has also been shown to improve self-efficacy, which is defined as “confidence in the ability to exert control over one’s own motivation, behavior, and social environment.”4

Setting and achieving exercise goals helps you gain or boost your self-confidence, and may make you feel better about your appearance.2 Physical activity can improve self-esteem and cognitive function, alleviating symptoms of depression such as low self-esteem.3

3. Exercise Enhances Social Interactions

Exercise has also been found to alleviate symptoms such as low self-esteem and social withdrawal.3

That doesn’t mean you have to work out with others, but exercise may give you the chance to meet or socialize with others. Even walking the neighborhood and saying hello to neighbors can boost your mood.2

What Counts as Exercise?

This isn’t an indication that you need to get a gym membership, start lifting heavy weights, or spend a bunch of money on a fancy exercise machine. And it certainly shouldn’t be thought of as a chore. Instead, identify something you enjoy, and look to be active 3-5 days a week to start.

Physical activity is considered an activity that works your muscles and requires energy, so running or sports like basketball are certainly good for you. But gardening, walking around the block, or other less strenuous forms of exercise such as a gentle yoga routine are also good for you.2

Anything that gets you up and moving, like dancing in the kitchen, can be considered exercise: structured and repetitive body movement done to improve or maintain physical fitness.2

Research has also suggested that increased physical activity of any kind will help improve depression across your lifespan, and can reduce the risk of developing depression in children and adults.5

Find Out More 

If you’re feeling more than occasional sadness, then use our Physician Finder to find a doctor near you who can help with mental health concerns. A doctor can also provide advice on getting more active, for your physical and mental health.

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