Everyone knows that exercise has incredible benefits to our physical health, but it also has a positive effect on our mental health. Studies show that engaging in exercises that boost your heart rate can improve symptoms of both depression and anxiety disorders. Aerobic exercises (any type of exercise that increases your heart rate and gets you sweating) have been shown to have beneficial effects on the brain; these exercises release endorphins and enkephalins (the body’s ‘feel-good’ hormones). These hormones are responsible for feelings of joy and happiness. Regular exercise also builds self confidence in a person over time and alleviates stress, which also improves mental health.
The majority of mental health professionals recommend 45 minutes of moderate exercise 3 to 5 times per week; however even as little as one hour of exercise each week has shown to help improve mental health. The long-term effects of consistent exercise on mental health are still being researched, however studies have shown that overall, individuals who exercised regularly for 10-12 weeks had less symptoms of depression compared to those who did not.
Often times when we hear “exercise” we immediately think of going to the gym, but memberships can be expensive, and for some the idea of exercising in front of others can be anxiety inducing. Exercising from home is a great way to get started; there are plenty of videos on Youtube with workout routines for everyone from beginners to experts. Starting out with low intensity workouts such as walking or swimming are recommended if your current activity level is low. Activities such as running, hot yoga, swimming, Pilates, HIIT (high intensity interval training), dance and cycling are all great ways to increase your heart rate.
As an alternate or in addition to working out, simply try incorporating more activity into your daily routine. Take the stairs instead of the elevator at work, play sports with your kids instead of watching them from the sidelines, or put some music on and dance while you cook dinner. Any movement that increases your heart rate is going to help you hit your exercise goal for the week.
Taking our mental health as seriously as our physical health is very important and should be a priority. In addition to regular exercise, proper nutrition and adequate sleep, speaking to a loved one is often helpful for those suffering from mental illness. If symptoms of a mental health disorder are becoming concerning, contact a mental health professional.
Dr. Diana Garcia
Dr. Diana Garcia has over 20 years of experience in the field of psychology. She has provided psychological and counseling services in Ontario, and the states of Pennsylvania, and Florida