Exercise can reduce your risk of countless diseases and health complications, protect against the natural aging process, and promote energy levels and vitality. While we are well used to thinking about these benefits, we often overlook mental health.
The link between physical activity and mental health has been known to exist for years, although we are only just beginning to understand how and why exercise is good for combatting non-physical problems.
Does exercise help depression and anxiety?
The NHS has formally recognised exercise as a treatment for depression and anxiety. Scientific studies have shown that aerobic and cardio exercises are beneficial for these mental health conditions. These studies did not find a link between the intensity and the level of benefit, so anything from a gentle walk to a vigorous spin class will boost mental health.
The reasons why exercise helps these conditions are varied. On a physiological level, cardio gets the oxygen-rich blood pumping around the body, enabling it to process toxins and promote healing. This may address imbalances that negatively impact mood.
Exercise is good for your gut
Exercise is also good for the microbiome that live in our gut, it cultivates the growth of good bacteria and stimulates the gut to eliminate waste and toxins. The link between our brain and our gut is known but not well understood. Studies have shown that gut imbalances can cause mental health problems, so it is an area of health worth paying attention to.
Exercise and social benefits
Exercise can also be a good way of getting out of the house and building something into your routine that is not about work or chores. It is a time to focus on yourself and be in tune with your body. It can also be social if you attend classes or exercise with a friend. This change in scenery and pace is a lifestyle factor that can boost mental health.
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Does exercise reduce stress?
The World Health Organisation named stress the health endemic of the 21st century. Stress is an underlying cause in a range of health problems, including
- heart disease
- type 2 diabetes
- chronic pain
- sleep disorders
- Stress can also cause mental health problems, including anxiety and depression.
According to Dr Mike Hansen, “100s, if not 1000s of studies show that exercise lowers your risk for serious health problems”.
We perceive stress as a feeling, but it physically exists in the body through increased levels of hormones (including adrenaline and cortisol). Modern lives are packed with stress. We are constantly connected through technology, meaning that we struggle to switch off from ‘work mode’. Moreover, the nature of work has drastically changed.
Most of us are physically sedentary all day long while our minds do all the effort.
Exercise can help to address all of these points.
Aerobic and cardio exercises stimulate the body’s system for processing stress hormones and helps to clear away the physical aspect of stress and reduce the risk of developing the associated physical and mental health problems.
It also provides a time in the day when we turn away from our phones and the demands of life to concentrate on the task at hand.
What type of exercise is best for your mood?
Persistent low mood can be caused by lifestyle factors, such as:
- Not taking enough time for yourself
- Having a poor self-image
- Constantly thinking ahead and planning for the next event
- Ignoring negative feelings
- Not acknowledging or even noticing positive feelings.
Home exercises to de-stress and boost your mood
De-stress with Yoga
If your stress or low mood is caused by a hectic lifestyle, yoga classes can offer a few quiet hours per week to rebalance yourself and develop your body’s strength and flexibility.
There are a range of class styles, some are more vigorous (for example, vinyasa and ashtanga) and others are more focused on the mental benefits of relaxation (for example, hatha and restorative).
There are even classes that are entirely focused on breathing. While not strictly exercise, the benefits of these guided sessions can be quite powerful.
Weightlifting can benefit your mental health
Strength training is a good way of carving out some time to focus on the moment and to appreciate your body for what it can do. We typically think of weights and muscle mass when we think about strength training, but yoga is a bodyweight exercise that builds tone and is well known for its mental focus.
#3 – Boost your mood with rowing, running or cycling
These mighty three staples of any home gym are also some of the best ways to boost your mood with some good, honest sweaty exercise. All three of these will raise your heart rate and increase the amount of oxygen passing into your body. And you do not need to spend hours. A 10-minute workout on a treadmill, rowing machine or bike can work wonders for how you feel.
#4 – Walking is good for your mental health
There are plenty of studies that sing the praises of a good walk. If you want to walk without leaving your home, there’s a number of walking treadmills you can go for that will let you get the benefits of walking outdoors without the wind or rain.
#5 – HIIT classes and workout routines
One of the best ways to boost your mood is to take part in one of the endless HIIT classes you can find on Youtube. Gone are the crusty old DVDs with desperate celebs trying to make a few quid on the side. On Youtube, you’ll find a wealth of professional videos that will bring variation to your workouts and also lift your mood.
#6 – Skipping your way to a happier life
You don’t have to splash out on any fancy new gym gear to give your mind a bit of a boost. A set of skips can cost under a tenner and again, there’s a lot of different videos you can bounce along to. It takes a bit of getting used to and you’ll end up stopping and starting until you get past skipping newbie level, but this is a fantastic form of exercise that’s shown to be very good for your body.
How to exercises to feel happy and light
The best approach to exercising for mental health is to do a mixture of the exercises that we have covered in this post and to make it work for you. Scientific research in this area is not fully developed so we cannot say that training 3 times a week, focusing on a specific type of exercise, is the best way to train for mental health.
Moreover, mental health problems can be caused by a range of factors, so what works for one person might not work for the next.
Maybe you need to lose yourself in a vigorous run a few times a week or maybe you need to slow down and focus on the moment a bit more. Or maybe you need a blend of different exercises. The only way to know is to run your own personal science experiment and try a bit of everything.