Exercise and Mental Health

Exercise and Mental Health: The Key to Self-care

As humans, we practice self-care every day. Unfortunately for some, self-care has been unhealthy. It includes working long hours at unfulfilling jobs, eating fast food and junk because it’s easy, skipping exercise. After all, you’re mentally and physically exhausted, you haven’t had a good night’s sleep in years, and you rarely do anything fun. You ignore the cries for help from your body until it forces you to visit a doctor. The doctor prescribes medicine, hoping it will ease your symptoms.

This is not the self-care you deserve.

You are not alone. Statistics show Americans are struggling to find ways to get healthier. The COVID pandemic has further hindered attempts at wellness. It’s increased fear, anxiety, and depression. 

However, you can improve your mental health through self-care.

What is Self-Care?

The key to self-care is understanding what it means and applying it the right way to your life. Self-care means doing whatever you can to take care of your health mentally and physically. It means not relying only on a doctor to fix your issues. It means taking control of your health and wellness.

Self-care empowers you to manage stressors and adequately handle the ups and downs of each day. Mental, emotional, and spiritual health are the main elements of self-care, in which specific activities can improve overall health. 

Below is an exploration of how exercise is an excellent self-care method for improving mental health.

What is Meant by Exercise?

If you’re like many other people, the word “exercise” makes you think of preparing for marathons or lifting weights at the gym. While those are two forms of exercise, they are not the only two. When talking about self-care, exercise also means any physical activity.

The World Health Organization defines physical activity as any movement that works the skeletal and muscular systems of the body. They also recommend specific amounts of time for physical activity based on age. For example, an adult between 18 and 64 should participate in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity throughout the week. The amount of time can be shortened if the insanity of the physical activity increases. That’s only 2.5 hours out of the whole week. If you skip the 30-minute news segment on television, you can exercise and avoid hearing negative commentary.

Why Is Exercise So Important for Self-Care?

Self-care is about making improvements. Exercise offers numerous benefits to your health, especially your mental health. Much research has been performed to measure the benefits, and the results show exercise can:

  • Treat mild depression just as effectively as medication
  • Release endorphins, the body’s natural pain relievers
  • Relax muscles and relieves tension
  • Reduce stress
  • Improve memory and concentration
  • Give you more energy
  • Improve sleep
  • Boost mood
  • Help you regulate emotions
  • Help control blood pressure and blood sugar levels
  • Help manage weight

Specific Exercises and Their Mental Health Benefits

With so many physical activities from which to choose, it’s good to know how they improve your mental health. One example is aerobic exercise, including running, cycling, or any activity that gets your heart beating faster, reduces anxiety and depression, and gives a boost to self-esteem and social functioning.

Yoga also reduces depression and anxiety and gives you a sense of satisfaction with life, empathy, compassion for yourself, and being mindful of your body.

Whether you are free-flow dancing, line dancing, or hip-hop dancing, you will receive mental health benefits such as reducing symptoms associated with past trauma, like rumination. Dancing benefits also include reducing anxiety and depression and improving memory and social skills.

Still not motivated to exercise? That’s okay. Here are some ideas on how to motivate yourself.

Motivate Yourself

Understandably, exercise is the last thing you want to do at the end of a long day. Waking up an hour early to exercise then get ready for work sounds worse. But it must be done, and after several days or weeks, your body will start to develop a habit.

Until then, there are techniques to use as motivation

Try rewarding yourself. If you like clothing, allow yourself to earn $1 (or any other amount) every time you complete a thirty-minute workout. Make physical activity fun. You are not stuck with walking or running. You can get physical activity by walking around the zoo, hiking, or bike riding. Mixing up your exercises means working different muscles in your body with each workout. 

The best motivator is having fun. Choose activities that make you laugh and want to repeat. Don’t limit yourself. Try roller skating, snowboarding, swimming, frisbee golf, or line dancing.

The Proof Is Out There

In a study of 1.2 million Americans, researchers compared people who exercise with those who don’t. Results show exercising for 45 minutes three times a week provides the most benefits. People who did this had 1.5 fewer mental health days a month. The average mental health days among participants was 3.4 days. Also, people who exercised more than this did not see more benefits.

Another finding in this study is the exercises associated with improvements in mental health. Researchers used 75 activities grouped into eight categories: aerobics and gym, cycling, team sports, running and jogging, walking, and water or winter sports. The results indicate the sports that produced the most mental health benefits include team sports, cycling, aerobics, and working out at the gym. The social component is seen as a motivator and helps you stay accountable.

However, in this study, even completing household chores is an activity that improves mental health.

How to Start

Getting started with an exercise plan to improve mental health is easier than you think. You can work with an individual therapist to create a self-care plan that includes exercise. Most therapists now have telehealth services, making it easier to get great advice. You can also partner with a friend who wants to improve their mental health. The key is to start. Even if it is for only ten minutes a day, go for it. You deserve it!