How Exercise Can Boost Your Mental Health
Any effective treatment for depression is a good one, but if you can bundle mood benefits with an activity good for your body, wouldn’t you want to give it a go? The advantages of exercise for mental health aren’t just media refrains, they’re real science and real helpful.
Many people know exercise will help their mental health, but knowing and doing don’t always go hand-in-hand. Linda L. Moore, Ph.D., psychologist and president of Linda L Moore and Associates, recommends exercise to all of her clients, even if it means starting small.
“Resistance is prevalent with people who have never participated in sports or given any form of exercise a try,” Moore said. She hears a lot of the same excuses.
'I don’t know how to exercise'
Those who have never exercised before might be intimidated by what they’ve seen other people do. But you don’t have to know how to do burpees or run a marathon right away. Start with what you know and take time to learn from sources online.
'It's too much work'
Many people who start exercising expect themselves to immediately be on the same level as folks who have been at it for a long time. The trick is to start small and build up the habit over time.
In "Atomic Habits," author James Clear recommends starting with something you can do in two minutes, such as putting on your workout clothes right before your workout. Once you’ve gotten the hang of it, drive to the gym. Keep adding two-minute increments after a week or two of the last one, and before you know it, you’ll have an exercise habit.
'I’m afraid I’ll hurt myself'
When done incorrectly, exercise can lead to injuries, such as pulled muscles, sprains and even broken bones. This is a valid concern and should not be ignored.
If you don’t know how to do a particular exercise, it might be worth working with a personal trainer to learn how to do so safely. If you can't afford a trainer, look up a video tutorial online to see the correct techniques.
If anything hurts beyond normal muscle soreness, stop immediately. Serious harm is not the goal; moving your body is.
'I have to exercise a lot to see the benefits'
Something as simple as a 10-minute walk can produce noticeable results in your mental state, such as stress relief and greater energy.
Low-intensity exercise for 30 minutes a day, five days per week, for three months is enough to boost mood and enthusiasm. Walking, stretching, doing yoga and cleaning all fit the bill. As a simple measure, if you can’t carry on a conversation while indulging in some low-intensity exercising, whatever you're doing is no longer considered low intensity.
'I can’t get out of bed, how can I possibly exercise?'
"There are some elementary stretches that can be done in bed that might stir the motivation to get up and make a more diligent effort to get going," Moore said. "That first step can be more motivating than realized."
Benefits of regular exercise for mental health
Exercise helps reduce stress if done for a minimum of 20 minutes, Moore said. "It also helps curb food cravings."
Exercising regularly boosts self-esteem and decreases symptoms of depression and anxiety. Moving your body daily also increases your overall energy levels, which tend to plummet with a lot of mental issues. Moving your body also helps lessen the symptoms of anxiety and depression, such as fatigue and trouble concentrating.
How to start exercising as a beginner
Establishing exercise as part of your regular day is crucial to receiving these mental health benefits. However, the sad truth is that around 90 percent of people with fitness goals give up within three months of starting.
“People just need to start with something that fits their lifestyle and is physically safe for them,” Moore said. In other words, don’t worry about doing the most effective exercise. Simply choose something you enjoy so it’s easier to maintain and it doesn't feel like work.
There are dozens of ways you can start exercising. A good place to begin your choice of exercise might be by checking out some of the thousands of workouts on YouTube or looking up classes available at your local gym. But if all that seems a bit daunting, why not settle on a daily 30-minute walk. There is something for everyone, and you'll find it fun discovering what's best for you.
Please note that anyone thinking about starting an exercise routine, especially if they have physical health concerns, should talk to their primary care doctor first for some good medical advice.