The physical benefits of exercise are well known and well documented. Even small amounts of exercise, done consistently, can help you trim the fat, build muscle, and build a better body.
And while maintaining physical health is an excellent reason to be active, there’s another benefit that’s arguably even bigger: mental health.
There’s more attention on mental health today than ever before. One would argue it’s more vital than ever before as well, with the number of stressors in everyday life, dragging us down into states of anxiety and depression.
That’s why it’s vital to invest in activities, like incidental exercise, which can deliver positive effects for mental well-being.
Read on to learn more about the links between exercise and mental health, and how you can start a healthy, active lifestyle.
Links between exercise and better mood
Numerous studies have shown a positive relationship between exercise and mood. One study revealed that aerobic exercises can reduce anxiety and depression.
Other studies provide similar results, centred around exercise and physical activities like yoga as an effective treatment for depression.
If you regularly work out, this should not come as a surprise to you. It’s normal to experience an elevated mood after exercise. Even a short workout can make you feel more energized and more alert, counteracting common symptoms of depression.
There can be a number of reasons why exercise makes you feel better:
- Working out distracts you from worries and negative thoughts that trigger anxiety.
- Exercise stimulates certain chemicals in the brain (like serotonin), which translate to better mood and happiness.
- Physical activity helps feelings of self-worth and self-esteem, by pushing the body through mental barriers and achieving goals.
- Social environments, such as gyms or sports teams, counteract feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Additionally, exercise has long-term effects that help improve mental health. Physical activity helps you sleep better, which is a huge factor in either positive or negative mental health.
Exercise also increases cardiovascular health and energy levels, which will both lead you to feeling better and more energetic throughout your day.
How to kick-start your active lifestyle
If you’re not yet including exercise as part of your daily lifestyle, now’s the time to start. The benefits, particularly related to mental health, are difficult to ignore. And better yet, you don’t need long and strenuous workouts to see an improvement in your mood.
Just short 30-minute workouts, done regularly, can have huge results. Here are some tips to help you get started.
- Make it a habit. Exercise is best if it’s done consistently. Regular workouts are better than one workout occasionally. The best way to get yourself to be active on a consistent basis is to make it a habit. This means short workouts, easy to fit in with your schedule. The idea is to make exercise something you do almost subconsciously, instead of having to motivate yourself to go out and be active. You can try biking to school or work or get in the habit of going for a short run either first thing in the morning or in the evening. Yoga is great for this as well, as scheduled class times help you kick-start it as a daily ritual.
- Increase gradually. If you’re not used to being active, don’t go and try to work out every day, right from the start. This will be likely to result in burnout, and you’ll eventually find yourself back where you started. Instead, ease into it. Start with two or three days a week, just 20-30 minutes at a time. Slowly increase your activity as you get used to it, and it will be much easier to make exercise a routine that sticks.
- Supplement and hydrate. It’s easy to get turned off to exercise if you’re always exhausted afterwards. Shorter workouts can help with this. As can proper supplementation and hydration. You’ll want to put the right things into your body to help it recover after a workout. Protein can work, as can simply eating clean, whole foods. Hydration is vital too, as without replacing fluids lost (such as from sweat), you’ll feel tired and short of energy. Drink an electrolyte supplement like Nakedade from Naked Nutrition to maintain hydration and keep yourself feeling great after exercising. Nakedade is made with Palatinose (isomaltulose), a low-glycemic smart carb derived from sugar beets. So, no spike in blood sugar or energy crash afterwards like regular sugar-loaded sports drinks.
- Find an activity you enjoy. Finally, you can make it easier to stay active by finding a physical activity you really enjoy. Everyone’s different; maybe you hate the idea of running or lifting weights in a repetitive manner. But the competitive nature of sport may appeal to you, or the calming environment of a yoga studio.
Whatever it is, it will be much easier to maintain a consistent habit if you find something you really like doing.
This is going to reduce the tension every time you go out to get some exercise, and it will provide even more pronounced mental health benefits, through the enjoyment of whatever form of activity you choose.
Ellen Diamond did her degree in psychology at the University of Edinburgh. She has a particular interest in mental health and well-being.