Exercise is a great way to boost your physical health, build a stronger immune system, and increase your total longevity and quality of life. Additionally, practicing physical activity for mental health can also be an invaluable tool for improving self-esteem and overall well-being.
Here are eight ways physical activity can help your mental state and become a powerful method of self-care.
1. Boosts Your Parasympathetic Nervous System
The primary benefit of exercise and physical activity is that it utilizes the body’s natural ability to release neurotransmitters and hormones like endorphin to power down your sympathetic nervous system and kick up your parasympathetic nervous system. This is important in the context of most mental health issues, especially depression and anxiety.
Your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are responsible for fight-or-flight responses, adrenal gland control, and the release of stress hormones like cortisol. Anxiety, from social phobia to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), can lead to extended exposure to stress hormones in the body. Working on reducing those levels through natural means, such as mild exercise, can help you manage your symptoms better.
2. Creates a Healthy Feedback Loop
Maladaptive coping mechanisms like substance use disorder or gambling will lead to a short-term boost in happiness, with a long-term string of mental and physical consequences.
However, physical activity for mental health provides a milder mental boost but is much more sustainable. The more you exercise, and the longer you stick to your physical activity of choice, the easier it becomes to stay consistent, make time for your new hobbies, and reap the benefits of being active.
3. Good for Stress Management
Stress management is a crucial part of a long-term treatment plan for mental health issues. Medication and therapy are also important but learning to reduce your daily stressors and the factors that impact your emotional health can help you become more resilient to future episodes, and reduce your symptoms considerably.
4. Helps with Anxiety and OCD
Exercise and physical activity, whether for general fitness or within a specific goal-oriented framework – such as wanting to run a marathon or become strong enough for a pull-up – requires a healthy and individualized program.
This requires you to schedule your sessions throughout the week, allot time, and better manage your recovery and fatigue outside of exercise to prepare yourself for training as your program increases with intensity. This can go a long way towards helping you with conditions that thrive in chaotic or unruly schedules, such as anxiety, depression, and OCD.
5. Nature Walks Can Improve Empathy and Reduce Depression
Not all physical activity needs to occur within the confines of a Planet Fitness or a home gym. You can get plenty of activity by opting to walk more often, park further away from your workspace, or take a weekly detour through a park on your walk home.
Nature walks, in particular, even if it is through a limited urban space like a park, can help improve your mental health even more than other forms of physical activity. Studies show that green spaces impact our mental health in ways other spaces do not and can induce greater calmness in the human mind.
6. Boosts Your Self-Esteem
How you see yourself has a big impact on your mental health – and in turn, your mental health has a big impact on how you see yourself. This loop can be both positive and negative.
In the negative, poor self-esteem can fuel and worsen symptoms of anxiety and depression, and even trigger body dysmorphia and related eating disorders in some people.
Physical activity for mental health can help you improve your self-esteem through small self-oriented physical achievements – such as sticking to a program for a week, losing your first pound, or making an improvement in your strength or muscle mass.
Other long-term goals can result in bigger gains in self-esteem, both through physical achievement and feeling more confident in your own skin. Fuel your self-esteem to improve your mental health and achieve greater resilience to depressive or anxious thoughts.
7. Improves Energy Levels and Reduces Fatigue
Ironically, exercising can increase the amount of physical and mental energy you have, provided you stick to a healthy regimen that does not leave you depleted every time.
Some people are quite hardcore about everything they commit themselves to and have a hard time keeping themselves from “hyper-focusing” on exercise to a detrimental degree.
If you have a tendency to burn yourself out on workouts, consider seeking the help of a coach to pursue your specific goals instead. They can help you plan your training in a sustainable fashion, keep your load management and training stimulus sufficient to make improvements without risking injury or high fatigue, and reap the mental benefits of exercise without burnout.
8. Does Not Require a Huge Time Commitment
Ultimately, one of the biggest barriers to entry to physical activity for mental health issues is the fact that it can feel daunting to spend a significant portion of your day-to-day for exercise or training.
But if you simply want to reap the mental health and stress reduction benefits of exercise, it helps to know that two sessions a week is enough to start seeing mental gains, up to or as much as those who train more often.
This means you only need to make room for an hour or so of physical activity twice a week to start seeing a minor improvement in your mental health. Don’t let your other commitments – whether it’s work or school – become an obstacle to your mental and physical health.
Too Tired to Train?
Take five minutes – just five minutes – and go on a brisk walk outside or on a treadmill, whenever you’ve scheduled exercise for yourself but have neither the time nor energy to get a workout.
No matter how fatigued or mentally exhausted you may feel, getting those five minutes of movement in – especially if you spent all day being sedentary at home, work, or school – could become surprisingly energizing. And if it doesn’t, you can still get your well-deserved rest knowing you got a little bit of healthy movement in.
Physical activity is simultaneously overrated and underrated – while many health magazines, online fitness journals, and physicians alike will repeat ad nauseum how getting up and getting moving can help with a myriad of mental and physical health issues, it’s important to remember that it’s no replacement for professional treatment. You should utilize physical activity for mental and physical health as an important part of your weekly schedule and as an important self-care tool.
Our bodies are made to move, after all. A little bit of physical activity goes a long way and can massively help the body as well as the mind. Take advantage of this natural synergy for your own mental well-being.
For more information and tips on mental health, visit Amend Treatment.