The Impact of Exercise on Mental Health

Living with mental health issues can be challenging. Anxiety, depression—ADHD, stress, and PTSD—mental health issues touch nearly every aspect of life, from work to relationships to overall wellbeing. And these issues can extend into our physical lives, sometimes diminishing our motivation to exercise. It’s an odd conundrum, considering how central exercise is in helping people manage their mental health issues.

Exercise has been shown to improve circulation and blood pressure, lower resting heart rate, and help regulate sleep patterns. Regular exercise can give us more energy throughout the day. It can improve mood, too. Some studies suggest that long-term depression and anxiety are significantly reduced in those who exercise regularly versus those who don’t. That’s because exercise promotes positive changes in the brain, as well as the release of endorphins, chemicals that make you feel good. Have you ever had a stressful day at work, only to find your mood vastly improved by that after-work run? Or maybe there’s a morning yoga class that always balances your energy.

But don’t just take the word of some study. See for yourself. Buy a new journal and commit to an exercise routine for the next month. Walking, running, and yoga. Boxing, jumping rope, dance. Team sports. Swimming in the ocean. The options are endless. Make notes on your feelings, sleep patterns, and moods, and look back after a month to see if you’ve improved in these areas.

Exercise can affect self-esteem as well. Sustained exercise will begin to shape the body, helping people lose weight, improve conditioning, and reduce the risk of disease. What better boon to self-image than that? Plus, there is the sense of accomplishment that comes with completing even one workout session, let alone sticking to a routine over a long period of time.

The benefits are there. And the beautiful thing about exercise is that you can start wherever is comfortable for you, no matter your ability, mobility, or level of physical conditioning. Start slow, and start with low impact exercises. Even a walk around the block, or a light jog done a couple times a week, can be of immense benefit.

While exercise is just part of dealing with mental health issues, it is also one of the most overlooked. But exercise can help establish a baseline, restore mental and physical equilibrium, and improve mood. If nothing else, an hour-long run here, a short walk around the block there, provides an opportunity to get the feet moving, check out for a bit, and take in the smells and the sounds of the world around us.

Just get out and get moving and let your body worry about the rest.

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