Your brain is your most important muscle.
I know, I know, it’s not really a muscle. But like any other muscle, your brain and mental health need activity to grow and thrive.
There’s a million different ways to improve your mental health. But one of the most effective—and often overlooked—ways to improve your mental health is exercise.
The benefits of exercise on mental health are well documented. So in this article you’ll learn 5 of the more beneficial ways exercise can support improved mental health and wellness.
The mental health benefits of exercise
The connection between our brains and our bodies is deep. It’s why your diet, sleep cycles, and activity levels can affect mood, happiness, and productivity in your brain.
There’s all kinds of ways to use this deep connection to improve your mental health.
One of the most direct paths (and easiest ways to see positive results) is using exercise to improve mental health and wellness.
Here’s 5 ways exercise can improve your mental health and wellness:
Exercise and Sleep
Exercise and sleep are linked in several waves. The most obvious is that exercise early enough in the day eventually makes you tired. Tired means you sleep easier, and boom… A better sleep.
While there’s no direct scientific link between exercise and sleep, studies have shown that moderate aerobic exercise increases the amount of short wave sleep you get.
Short wave sleep is a deeper sleep cycle your body uses to “stabilize your mood and decompress your mind.” So exercise not only improves your quality of sleep, it also unlocks more of the kind of sleep that enhances mental health.
Exercise and Stress
Exercise stimulates important responses in our brain related to the management of stress.
Mood-regulating neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine are released when you exercise.
Exercise helps to create the tools we need to deal with our stress. Without these neurotransmitters, we are more likely to feel irritable or anxious from daily stressors.
The act of exercise itself also gives you some time away from your daily stressors. Try to use your exercise time as a moment to focus on decompressing and de-stressing—exercise can be meditation too!
Exercise and Nature
If you are able, moving your exercise practice like jogging or walking into nature can have profound effects on mental health.
By 2050, 70% of people will live in an urbanized area. In urban areas, studies have suggested that there’s a higher probability of developing mood or anxiety disorders compared to rural areas.
Previous studies have also shown that “time in nature was found to have a positive effect on mood and aspects of cognitive function.”
So turning your exercise time into nature time can amplify the positive mental health benefits of exercise.
Exercise and Strength
Many types of exercise strengthen important muscle groups. You’re probably asking, “What does that have to do with mental health?”
Strengthening and fortifying your body with exercise can help build resistance to common aches and pains like a sore back, neck and shoulders.
Ongoing pain in these areas can lead to fatigue, poor mood, and irritability that can weigh on your mental health and create stress.
But with exercise and strengthening, in certain contexts it’s possible to minimize the pain and stress caused by things like sitting all day, poor posture or sedentary activities.
Exercise and Confidence
Ongoing exercise can positively impact confidence in yourself that extends beyond your exercise practice.
Creating and committing to a daily exercise routine that fits your lifestyle helps to build motivation, confidence, perseverance and structure that can benefit other facets of life.
Use exercise to teach yourself motivation by keeping up with streaks and rewarding yourself for your work and progress—it’s how healthy habits are formed.
Boosting these aspects of your mental health can be difficult in other parts of your life.
An exercise practice provides a simple, easy and beneficial framework to build confidence and healthy habits all at the same time.
Adding exercise for mental health
Exercise is different for everyone, so don’t feel pressured to start with a rigorous, high-impact workout. Beginner exercise routines help your mental health too!
Start small and work your way up, because exercise and daily movement not only improves your fitness, it enhances your mental health as well.