How Does Exercise Improve Mental Health?

Written by Priyanka Agarwal, Writer at Hola Health
Medically Reviewed by Amira Shah, MA in Couselling Psychology, Registered Psychotherapist, B.Ed with Guidance & Councelling B.Arts

We know that exercise is extremely important for our physical health. However, it is not just good for maintaining a healthy weight, it’s also great for our mental health. In today’s fast-paced world, mental health disorders have become very common. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), between the years 2020 and 2022, 42.9% of people aged 16–85 years had experienced a mental disorder at some time in their life. Yet, how does exercise improve mental health? Regular exercise triggers the release of mood-boosting neurotransmitters which elevate mood and reduce stress and anxiety. Let’s learn more about exercise and its mental health benefits.

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How Does Exercise Help Your Mental Health?

Exercise is one of the most important things you can do for your mental health. It can boost your mood and can positively change your outlook on life. Here are some common benefits.

1. Stress Reliever: Exercise is a great stress reliever. It triggers the release of feel-good chemicals like endorphins and serotonin which are your body’s natural mood lifters. These chemicals aid in reducing stress and tension, leaving you calm and relaxed.

2. Help For Depression And Anxiety: Exercise is a certified mood booster and successfully reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression. Regular exercise helps in managing the body’s stress response system, making it less reactive to anxieties over time. Again, it kicks up the endorphin levels and helps relieve feelings of fear and worry.

3. Increase Self-Confidence: Regular exercise has innumerable benefits. From losing body weight to increasing stamina, there are so many physical achievements that come about in our fitness journey. Achieving fitness goals boosts self-esteem and confidence, fostering a positive self-image.

 4. Promote Better Sleep: Getting a good night’s sleep is important for mental and emotional well-being as it helps the body and mind to relax. Exercise regulates sleep patterns and promotes better sleep.

5. Brain Booster: Exercise can positively affect your thinking and memory. Studies indicate that cardiovascular exercise creates new brain cells—a process called neurogenesis that enhances brain performance. Physical activities stimulate brain activity, prevent memory loss, and escalate creativity.

6. Increases Social Interactions: Engaging in exercise is a great way to socialise with others. Joining group exercise classes such as yoga, participating in a basketball or football match or group hiking give you a chance to meet new people and make new friends. These interactions encourage healthy communication and promote a sense of fulfilment. 

7. Better Coping Ability: Regular exercise can help you fight the emotional and mental challenges of life healthily. Relying on alcohol, drugs, or other unhealthy coping mechanisms can exacerbate the situation.

Overcoming Obstacles To Exercise With Mental Health Challenges

Although we know that exercise is good for our overall well-being, taking that first step is always very difficult. According to a survey conducted in 2022, nearly half (46.9%) of employed adults aged 18–64 years described their day at work as mostly sitting. Here are a few pointers which can help you to overcome obstacles to maintain your progress.

1. Gym membership and sports equipment can be costly. If cost is the factor that is hindering your journey, there are some affordable ways to keep yourself fit. Working out in a group, walking, and yoga are a few economical ways to maintain fitness.

 2. Sometimes you might feel conscious while trying to exercise in a public place. To overcome this, you can try wearing clothes that you feel extremely comfortable in. You Can even exercise along with a friend or simply work out at home. 

3. It is easy to lose focus when your mental health is affecting your daily routine. It is important to set small goals and try to commit to them daily. You can try to perform those exercises that make you feel happy and motivated. 

4. If you have any physical limitations like injuries or disabilities, it is best to seek professional guidance. Physiotherapists can make you feel better and help you to exercise without aggravating the pre-existing ailment. 

5. Your work life can be demanding at times. As a result, you may miss working out while trying to overcome the challenges at work. In this case, even 30 minutes of dedicated physical activity can be a game-changer. Creating weekly schedules can also be of great help while you’re trying to allocate your time effectively. 

How To Get Started With Exercise And Stay Motivated?

Even in the best of circumstances, many of us struggle to find the motivation to work out. It may seem even more challenging if you are experiencing anxiety, stress, or any other mental illness. It sounds difficult to get a headstart, but taking small steps toward your goal can yield a positive result. Australian guidelines recommend daily physical activity for at least 30 minutes to maintain our overall well-being. Beginning with simple activities like yoga, walking and jogging can largely benefit our mind and body. Even simple household chores like cleaning and mopping can provide a little exercise. Indulging in your favourite physical activity can make it much easier for you to commit to the process. Working out along with a friend or a family member can also help you to stay focused and motivated throughout. Remember, it is always these little steps that go a long way, hence achieving these steps can keep you satisfied with your progress.

Tips: Developing An Exercise Routine

Wondering how to deal with stress while trying to meet your fitness demands? The key rule is to develop a strategic exercise routine that aligns with your goals and keeps you on track. Here are some tips to help you get started.

 1. Set easy targets: Focusing on an unattainable aim can tire you easily. Thus, setting easy targets is an essential step to maintain consistency.

2. Finding an ideal time to workout: Some individuals tend to feel more active in the morning while some others feel energetic during the evening. Settling on a time that caters to your energy levels will make it easier for you to stick to your plans.

 3. Indulge in enjoyable activities: Playing your favourite sport or merely doing physical activities that you like is a great way to work out. 

 4. Professional guidance: Opting for personal trainers is an excellent way to stay persistent with your exercises. Following their workout plans and schedules can enforce discipline and keep you in tune with your aims.

 5. Rewarding yourself: Celebrating small wins can help you to maintain motivation. Treating yourself to your favourite snack or an extra episode of your preferred TV show can make you feel extremely proud of your efforts. 

 6. Partnering up: Working out with your friends or family members can make the task look smooth. A good company can help you to stick to your exercise routine. In this way, you can even spend more time with your loved ones. 

 7. Re-evaluation: Regular evaluation of your routine can help you adjust your workout timings concerning your other commitments. This can help you to avoid missing out on everyday physical activity, possibly keeping you right on track.

Tips: Non-Gym Activities To Stay Ahead

If you are unable to dedicate enough time to the gym, physical movement in any form is appreciated. Here are some easy ways to keep moving.

 1. Gardening: Gardening involves tasks like digging and planting that require physical strength. It is a great way to get moving. Additionally, spending time outdoors amidst the greenery can improve your mood and reduce stress.

 2. Taking a stroll: Walking or jogging in a park is the simplest way to get some physical activity done. It is both accessible and sustainable which helps to cater to all kinds of people with different fitness levels. 

3. Dancing: Dancing is yet another enjoyable activity that can get those calories burning. Moreover, dancing to your favourite music along with your loved ones can fill you with ecstasy, making you look forward to your workout time.

4. Yoga: Yoga promotes physical health by improving flexibility and balance. As a bonus, it contributes to an overall sense of calmness and mindfulness. 

5. Household work: Engaging in household chores can easily get you on the move. Activities like cleaning, cooking, and mowing the lawn promote exercise through movements like bending, lifting, and walking.

6. Increase in movements: Using the stairs instead of an elevator, walking towards the bus stop or moving constantly while working incorporates extra movement, thus contributing towards physical activity.

When To Seek Help?

Before embarking on your fitness journey, it is advisable to consult a healthcare professional to determine the exercises and intensity levels that align with your comfort and health status. While physical activity can effectively alleviate tension and stress, seeking professional guidance is essential if symptoms of anxiety continue to come up. Healthcare professionals are adept at tailoring workout plans to suit your health conditions, offering valuable advice and motivation to support your progress.

To sum it up, regular exercise positively impacts your mental health by reducing stress and providing a sense of accomplishment. It enhances self-esteem and body image, contributing to an individual’s holistic development through maintaining an emotional balance. This is why embracing exercise is an important aspect of a healthy lifestyle and can have long-lasting benefits for your overall well-being. 

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  1. Exercise and mental health – Reference Link
  2. The book of neurogenesis – Reference Link
  3. How to get started with exercise and stay motivated – Reference Link
  4. Tips to develop an exercise routine – Reference Link
  5. Tips: non-gym activities to stay ahead – Reference Link
  6. When to seek help – Reference Link 
  7. National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing – Reference Link
  8. Ways to overcome obstacles while exercising – Reference Link

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This content is created for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. For emergencies please immediately contact 000.