When we think about working out, most of us are focused on getting fitter, stronger and leaner. However, regular exercise can also be an amazing coping mechanism for improving your mental health. Health might not be at the top of your priority list when feeling low, but exercise has been shown to be hugely effective in calming anxiety and boosting your mood (thank you endorphins!). Here are just a few of the benefits your mind could gain from getting moving…
Reduced Anxiety & Better Moods
Sometimes, anxiety and/or depression is too severe to even think about leaving the house. But if you’re feeling a little low, or feel symptoms start to appear, working out is a great way to escape your mind and ease your racing thoughts. When we work up a sweat our brains release endorphins, aka “happy hormones”! As Matt Haig said, “running mimics the symptoms [of anxiety]: heart racing, breathlessness, adrenaline pumping. It’s impossible to have a panic attack when you’re running.”
Exercise helps to control your cortisol levels, which will help to reduce feelings of stress and tension. It’s also a really good distraction and a good way to break away from negative thought patterns. Focusing on the physical experience – those tired legs and your shortness of breath –will leave you better able to think clearly. It’s all about perspective after all.
Anyone who suffers with their mental health will know that your self-esteem often plummets alongside your mental wellbeing. So, seeing your fitness levels improve week on week, can be a much self-confidence booster. Achieving little goals, whether that’s a 10-mile bike ride or just managed to leave the house for a run, will give you a sense of achievement and increase your belief in yourself. If you can get through your workout, what else can you do?
Reduced Risk of Depression
The relationship between depression and exercise is a two-way street: a study published by JAMA Psychiatry found that if you’re physically active three times a week, it reduces the odds of being depressed by approximately 16%. So not only can working out reduce your depressive symptoms, but it can also prevent you from suffering with them in the first place!
Improved Social Life
Maintaining a thriving social life isn’t so easy when your mental health is suffering but spending time with others can do wonders for your wellbeing. Joining a sports team or run club can be a much more fun way to gain the benefits of being social as well as the ones from getting active. If being super social is anxiety-provoking for you, then it’s a great, no-pressure environment where no-one will judge you for running quietly in the midst of the group.
A Word On What Exercise To Choose
When it comes to getting active to improve your mental health, not all workouts are created equal. If you’re feeling anxious, an intense HIIT class will only add more stress to your body and mind, but if you’re feeling sluggish and lethargic, a high energy class might be just what you need to kick start your day. Need to feel strong and capable? Pick up some weights. Don’t feel up for a group class? Go for a jog or walk in the park – it’s all about moving in a way that suits you and your mind.