Does Physical Activity Improve Your Mental Health?

There has always been some debate about the relationship between physical health and mental health.  People tend to view the two very differently as if they were two completely different things. This brings to mind what my physical health has to do with my mental health, and can physical activity help improve my mental health?

Well, the short answer to both of those questions is yes!

The human body is very complex, and all the systems work together to help make you who you are.  Does this mean that you have to be physically healthy to be happy? No, of course not; people can find happiness even in the most unfortunate or challenging circumstances.

This also means that you can be in excellent physical health and still experience things like anxiety and depression.  Your physical health plays a vital role in your mental health but is just one of many different factors.

Overall physical health aside, there are numerous mental health benefits to getting regular physical activity and exercise. There are also ways to take advantage of these benefits regardless of your physical state or the amount of activity you can do.

So, let’s look at some of these benefits and some ways that we can use physical activity to help improve our mental health and physical health.

Mental Health Benefits of Exercise

1: Getting exercise and getting active has physical benefits but several psychological ones too.

  • The most immediate effects that someone can have on their mental health is from physical activity
  • Exercise increases your heart rate, improves blood flow, releases several different endorphins, and lowers your cortisol level (the stress hormone). So the benefits you get are not just psychological but a physical change to your body chemistry that improves your mood.

2: Exercise can increase your confidence

  • As tough as it may be to get started on a workout or to go to the gym, you almost always feel accomplished afterwards.
  • No one ever really says, “oh man, I really regret that workout!”

3: Exercise can increase your physical and mental energy

  • Exercising can actually increase your alertness and attention throughout the day
  • Doing even just 20 minutes of light to moderate exercise (e.g. walking) can boost your energy levels too

4: It’s a great coping skill

  • Staying focused on the exercise and breathing is an amazing way to practice mindfulness!
  • Whether it’s a brief walk or you’re hitting a new PR at the gym, exercise helps reduce stress and can be the perfect time to distract yourself or have some time to work through struggles.

5: Social Supports

  • Getting involved in a team sport or physical group activity is a great way to meet new people with similar interests as you! The same goes for becoming a regular at your local gym or pool.

6: Improves Your Sleep

  • Being more active throughout the day can cause you to sleep better, ultimately helping you feel more rested and better able to tackle the next day.

Simple Ways to Get More Active

Not every activity has to be a 5-mile run or a 2-hour weight-lifting session that leaves you sore and dripping with sweat.  Anything that gets you moving and increases your heart rate is plenty! So try some of these ideas to improve your mental health:

  1. Walking is one of the simplest and easiest ways to exercise so find some ways to get those steps in! Pace around the house when you are on the phone, park at the back of the parking lot, meet up with a neighbor or a friend and walk while you catch up.
  2. Yoga is an amazing activity for people of all skill levels. It’s low impact and can be adapted for older individuals or people with mobility issues. You can do it for 5 minutes or for an hour, and all you need is a mat (or even a towel).
  3. Instead of circling the parking lot for 5 minutes looking for the closest spot, try parking in the furthest spot you can find and get those extra steps in. As a bonus, take the stairs when you can.
  4. If you can afford a treadmill, stationary bike, or an under-the-desk elliptical, put those to good use and walk or ride while you watch your favorite shows, read a book, or take care of work. Exercise doesn’t have to take away from your busy schedule. (You can do some of this at the gym as well)

Tips for Developing Good Fitness Habits

You and I both know that the hardest thing about exercise is sticking to a routine and forming positive habits. So here are some tips to help you get more active and to stick with it.

  1. Pair the physical activity with something you already do
    • Get in the habit of taking your noon call on the treadmill, going to the gym on the way home from work, or taking a walk after you eat your lunch.
  2. Have a positive mindset with realistic goals and expectations.
    • If you set the goal that you need to run a 6-minute mile, you can fail at that goal and be discouraged. Keep an open mind and start slow with achievable goals. For example, instead of saying, “I need to run 2 miles” try, “I am going to run today.”
  3. Remember that motivation is optional
    • People always say “I’ll go when I feel motivated.” But you may not feel motivated to go, and that doesn’t mean you should.

We’re Here to Help!

So like we talked about in the beginning, physical activity can help you improve your mental health in a lot of different ways! If you’d like some more help and to talk with a Bucks County therapist at Ally Psych, don’t hesitate to reach out and Contact Us today!