People who exercise regularly do it simply because it makes them feel good. Exercise can boost your mood, concentration and alertness (1). It can even help give you a positive outlook on life. The link between exercise and mental health is complicated. Inactivity can be both a cause and a consequence of mental illness, for example. But there are lots of ways that exercise can benefit your mental health.
Mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety aren’t easy to treat. Medications help many but have a high failure rate and may bring nasty side effects. Exercise has profound effects on brain structure itself, and especially in regions most affected by depression and schizophrenia. It also provides other, more subtle benefits such as focus, a sense of accomplishment and sometimes social stimulation, all of which are therapeutic in their own right. And while more is generally better, even modest levels of physical activity, such as a daily walk, can pay big dividends for mental health.
Check out these 8 common workouts to see if they improve your mental health.
Not only is running a great exercise to improve your mental health, but it’s also a great way to get some time in the great outdoors during this period of quarantine. Running outside helps you get vitamin D from the sun, which helps stop symptoms of depression.
The cardio helps improve your blood flow, which can help improve your brain function. And, it can tire you out, which will help you sleep better without medical intervention. Just make sure you have appropriate clothing, running shoes, and keep observing social distancing rules.
If you need to relax, yoga is probably the exercise for you. The American Psychological Association (2) has found that yoga helps improve your physical and mental wellness, and can significantly reduce anxiety. Use soothing music to relax even more while you practice your yoga. The benefits of yoga for your mental health really can’t be underestimated.
Some different types of yoga you might want to try out are:
- Bikram yoga
- Vinyasa yoga
- Ashtanga yoga
- Restorative yoga
- Kundalini yoga
- Power yoga
- Iyengar yoga
- Anusara yoga
- Jivamukti yoga
- Sivananda yoga
- Hatha yoga
And, once we’re all able to go back into the world again, you’ll be able to try weird and experimental yoga classes like goat yoga (3) or dog yoga. These are classes with actual animals at them! That may seem like a weird choice, but they’re actually shown to have therapeutic benefits while you exercise.
If you have or can get a boxing bag, boxing is a really great way to get out aggression and relieve any stress you have. It might seem too aggressive, but it’s actually a really fun and engaging workout that many different types of people can enjoy.
Boxing is also a really great way to improve your confidence in yourself, and can help you be better at self-defense should you need it. Boxing helps your body produce more endorphins, and is a really good way to manage your anger.
- Biking and Cycling
Even if you can’t go to spin class right now, cycling is still a great exercise to help improve your mental health while the weather outside stays nice. And, you’ll get to soak up the great outdoors and keep getting that super-important Vitamin D into your system!
It is suggested that 30-60 minutes (4) of steady riding at a good pace is a good balance for a ride. Increasing your heart rate to roughly 75% of your maximum is also suggested. Three to five sessions a week is enough to get those benefits flowing. It’s an easy and enjoyable addition to your mental health first aid kit and since it can be a great cardiovascular workout it will raise up your heart rate and bump up your endorphin level.
Looking to get loosey-goosey and shake out those jitters? Have you considered dancing to improve your mental and physical health? Dancing is a great way to turn off your brain and let go of the stress of everyday life.
Since you probably can’t get out to a dance class right now, why not try one of the many dance class videos you can find on YouTube or other video streaming sites? There are really a lot of different options for you to dance to improve your mental health in the privacy of your own home.
You may find Pilates intimidating, but it’s actually a really good exercise to help alleviate mental health problems you might be struggling with. Breath is one of the most powerful tools in calming the mind. Breathing is one of the 8 Principles of Pilates and is an essential component of all Pilates classes. Every Pilates exercise involves a particular breathing pattern which improves the effectiveness of the exercise, helps to supply oxygen to the muscles, removes waste products and prevents you from holding your breath.
Pilates can help you develop techniques for mindfulness, which are helpful for dealing with mental health issues like depression and anxiety. Pilates is a good way to manage your stress through strength training, and also may be helpful in improving your memory.
This probably isn’t something you can try right now, but swimming is a great way to alleviate mental health problems through exercise. Not only is swimming super fun, but it’s really a great way to get a good workout that will improve your mental health.
The color of water itself (blue) is naturally soothing and may improve your mental health in and of itself. Swimming improves your concentration and focus, which can help improve symptoms of depression and anxiety. Some studies have even shown that swimming could help regenerate brain cells in areas that have deteriorated due to stress.
- Walk It Out
It may seem silly, but walking as an exercise can seriously improve your mental health. It’s an extremely simple, low-stress way to get exercise, disconnect from the stress of your routine, and get out of the house without violating social distancing rules.
Walking when it’s sunny outside helps you get more vitamin D, and should help any claustrophobia you may be feeling abate. Walking is an easy, cheap, and low-risk exercise that could really improve your mental health in the long term.
A little exercise will improve your daily life.
The above workouts can help you get better mental health during a stressful time in your life. However, if you are seriously struggling, you should reach out to a healthcare professional and find out your options for therapy, counseling, and other mental health care treatments.
Are you looking to learn more about health, fitness, and other related topics? Check out some of our other articles regarding improving mental health.
by Cara Lucas