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The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise That We Often Forget

You’re probably aware that exercise can help you feel better physically. Lift weights, and you can get stronger. Stretch regularly, and you can become more flexible. Start running, and you can increase your stamina. But the benefits of exercise don’t stop with your body; they extend to your mind.

Physical and mental health are more connected than people think, and it’s easy to forget (or not know!) some of the greatest mental health benefits that stem from exercise. While physical activity isn’t a full-on treatment for a mental disorder or illness, it can absolutely help with managing symptoms and improving your overall quality of life. From helping to manage anxiety to easing symptoms of depression, a proper amount of regular exercise can result in a whole host of benefits. We’ve put together a list of some of the mental health benefits of exercise to inspire you to get active.

Improved Focus

Do you often feel mentally exhausted and find it hard to focus on a task? Are you experiencing the “brain fog” that can come with age? Exercise can help with that! A regular amount of physical exercise will not only help you lose weight and lower your blood pressure; it can also allow you to sleep easier and improve your memory and thinking skills. Give regular exercise a try, and you may begin to find it easier to sit down to focus on a project. Exercise can also improve your focus indirectly by helping you fall asleep and get more rest, leaving you more aware and ready to tackle a task the next day.

Mitigated Stress

Yoga and meditation aren’t the only practices that can help you relax–just about any type of exercise can reduce your stress levels. If you are in a position to comfortably exercise regularly, running, swimming, or even walking are all great ways to fight mental illness. A person who doesn’t suffer from a mental health condition can also find relief from stress in some form of activity. After all, it’s hard to worry about a deadline at work or an upcoming event when you’re sweating and pushing your body to perform.

Boosted Mood

You may have heard that exercise boosts endorphins. But what, exactly, does that mean? Maybe you’ve heard of a “runner’s high,” or just felt really great after a hard workout–that’s the result of endorphins being released and triggering a certain reaction within your brain. Endorphins are neurotransmitters, or chemicals, in your brain that act almost like a natural painkiller and can trigger those feelings of happiness or even euphoria. Listening to music, laughing, and even eating chocolate can also release endorphins. So the next time you’re having a bad week or feeling down in the dumps, try going for a jog and listening to your favorite tunes to turn your day around.

Eased Symptoms

Regular exercise can ease the various symptoms of depression and anxiety. By no means should you use jogging as your only form of treatment for a mental health disorder, but physical activity can make a difference in the severity of your symptoms. Give it a try in addition to seeking professional help. Your therapist or doctor may indeed suggest an exercise regimen before or in addition to looking to medication for help in treating any mental health issues.    

Increased Self-Confidence

Even perfectly healthy people can suffer from self-esteem and body image issues. Exercise can be a helpful step in learning to appreciate your body for what it can do, rather than for what it looks like. As a bonus, exercise will help you tone your body, and can make you feel good about how your body looks as you notice improvements. But if you feel yourself focusing negatively on your body weight or obsessing over what you’re eating, you may benefit from talking to a therapist about your relationship to your body.

Improved Social Skills

People with mental health conditions such as anxiety might find it difficult to socialize with others. Even a healthy person with no diagnosed conditions could be shy or nervous about making friends. In addition to increasing your self-confidence, exercise can help you improve your social skills. Try joining a group class such as cardio kickboxing or pilates. Get to class a little early, and practice making small talk with people as you get ready to exercise. If the conversation doesn’t go well, you have the sweat and rhythm of a group class to take your mind off of it, and you can always try again next week.

Learn More About Managing Your Mental Health with Family Psychiatry and Therapy

At Family Psychiatry and Therapy, we’re dedicated to respecting our patients and treating the source of a problem, rather than just managing the symptoms. Our mental health professionals will work with you to determine the best possible treatment plan that will allow you to live your healthiest, happiest life. Contact us today to learn more about our services.

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Helene A. Miller / And Other Providers
Family Psychiatry and Therapy brings compassion, understanding, and skilled care to patients throughout New Jersey. Our team of mental health professionals focuses on providing a positive and uplifting experience that aids our patients in facing life’s toughest challenges.