8 ways regular exercise benefits mental health – according to the experts

-Jan 26, Jenny Paul , Mind -

If you struggle with anxiety, stress, depression or are generally feeling down in the dumps then dragging yourself off the sofa to exercise is no easy feat. But the benefits of physical activity on a regular basis can do so much for your mental health that we’re confident once you get started you won’t go back.

It’s a well known fact that exercise makes us physically strong, but it can be a workout for the mind too. With the number of people suffering from mental health issues, on the rise, it’s never been so important to care for our wellbeing, which includes what’s up top.

Finding ways to de-stress, reduce anxiety and elevate our mood has sufferers searching high and low for answers, when one very simple one could make the world of difference…exercise.

What does exercise do for mental health?

1. Reduces stress

An activity like walking can really help to reduce stress. It gives you time away from the hustle and bustle to think, as well as the fact you can benefit from the powers of being in the great outdoors. When you’re stressed you also find your muscles are tense, but many forms of exercise can help you to relax. Yoga and Pilates are good stress relievers because they incorporate calming breathing techniques too.

Related: 5 ways to deal with stress – by Dr. Rangan Chatterjee

2. Lowers blood pressure

Stress and anxiety can lead to high blood pressure which is bad for the body, in particular the heart. Exercise helps lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of cardiovascular problems.

3. Makes you happier

That jubilant feeling you have post workout is about so much more than the fact you’ve finished! When you exercise your body releases the happy endorphins which boost your mood. Unless you injure yourself it’s incredibly rare you’ll feel worse after a workout than better.

4. Helps you relax

Mental health problems often come hand in hand with disrupted sleep. Physical exertion can help you drift off especially if you exercise at the right time. Enjoy a workout approximately five hours before bedtime and your body’s core temperature will rise and drop back down to normal a few hours later. This helps you to relax at bedtime.

5. Calms you down

Those suffering with anxiety might think getting up and moving will only heighten their anxiety levels, but actually a brisk walk, run or aerobic activity can reduce anxiety sensitivity and induce calm.

6. Helps build self-confidence

Exercise can work wonders for your self image and self worth. It doesn’t matter your age, your size, your weight or your gender because physical activity can boost the way you feel about yourself. Once you see and feel change too you’ll keep coming back for more.

Related: How to make your home benefit your mental health

7. Helps you focus

Your mind can be all over the place when you’re anxious, stressed or depressed and this can make it tricky to concentrate. Exercise has been shown to not only sharpen memory but make you more productive too. Even if you can only get out for a 20 minute walk at lunchtime, getting away from your desk will refresh you on your return. In fact if you’re feeling stagnant, confused or overwhelmed a workout can get you out of a funk.

8. How to get motivated to exercise

Getting out of bed, off the sofa or even out of the house can be the biggest battle of them all. You may come up with a million and one excuses why you shouldn’t step outside of your comfort zone. Perhaps it’s too cold or you’ve convinced yourself you’ll do it tomorrow instead. But getting over the hurdle is the first step to turning your life around, so we asked three fitness experts for their top tips to make exercise a priority.

Start small: Founder of Fit4mum Melissa Lorch says a great way to get yourself moving is to trick yourself into it: “I always say that one is better than none. So promise yourself you’ll do just 10 minutes of exercise and then you can stop. I guarantee that once you get started you’ll keep going for twice that long, if not more.”

Set yourself a challenge: Vikings’ star and founder of bespoke mindfulness practice, EnergyRise Maude Hirst tells Lumity: “People generally work well in a challenge setting, so try a 10 or 30 day challenge where you workout every day. Once you do something consistently for a certain period of time it can become a habit.” So it doesn’t feel so tough to get going anymore.

Exercise from home: Getting the guts up to step into a gym environment can be incredibly daunting. Cut out the commuting and the nerves with an at home workout. Melissa’s ‘Feel Great in 28’ program can be done entirely from your front room and the support from the group’s members only Facebook page will help spur you along.

Find a friend: Top London trainer from Core Collective told Lumity it’s great to buddy up. “Find a friend with a goal that is similar to yours. It’s easier to workout when you have someone else doing it with you.”

Put some music on: Melissa says something as simple as whacking on some upbeat tunes could have you jumping around the living room and burning calories before you know it. A great tune can work wonders for your mood too.

Find something you love: Maude tells Lumity it’s all about finding the right sort of exercise to suit you. It is after all what her EnergyRise is all about! “There will be the right program out there for you,” she insists. “When you find it you’ll know because you’ll want to do it over and over again.”

We know with how busy life gets it can be difficult to find the time to exercise too but we have some simple tips to squeezing more exercise into your day and why exercise is key to a healthy heart.

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