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How Exercise Can Improve Your Mental Health

Therapists at Meridian Idaho Counseling understand that mental health is a crucial part of everyday life and can have vast consequences when ignored or neglected. Exercise has been consistently proven to be one of the most effective ways to improve your mental well-being, but many underestimate its potential. In this blog post, we’ll explore how exercise can foster positive benefits for mental health, such as feelings of self-efficacy and improved mood. Whether you’re just beginning your journey or looking to get back on track after tough times, let's explore how physical activity can be a powerful tool in creating a balanced lifestyle!

Understanding the Link Between Exercise and Mental Health
Exercise has always been understood to be beneficial for physical health, but the link between exercise and mental health is just now being explored and appreciated. Exercise can alter brain chemistry by releasing endorphins to produce a feeling of euphoria and reduce stress, as well as helping to improve arousal and alertness. For example, regular aerobic exercise increases brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which helps brain cells grow in the hippocampus region responsible for memory consolidation and mood regulation. Incorporating some form of exercise into daily life is an important way to benefit both the brain and body, making it an invaluable habit to establish in order to help maintain good mental health.

Promoting Better Sleep
Exercise can be an invaluable tool to promote better sleep, which is a foundation of mental and physical health. Research has shown that circadian rhythms, which control the body’s internal clock and regulate when we sleep and wake up, are often thrown off balance by prolonged periods of inactivity. Exercising in the mornings is a great way to set your clock, and sync with the day’s natural light and dark patterns. Although it's not recommended to do cardiovascular or strength training too late in the day, some physical activities like yoga or stretching are known to facilitate longer sleep cycles. If getting enough quality sleep is something you struggle with, then exercise could be your ticket to better rest.

Reducing Stress & Anxiety
Exercise is a powerful tool for managing stress and anxiety, as it provides us with endorphins – the body's natural painkillers. It has been scientifically proven that endorphins boost our mood, providing an instant calming effect. Furthermore, working out can be seen as a hormetic stressor – meaning that exposing yourself to short bursts of physical stress reduces overall feelings of worry and fear, and makes you better prepared for undesired stress. On top of endorphin production and hormesis effects, exercise can serve as a valuable distraction from anxious thoughts – allowing you to momentarily escape from worrying and break free from irrational or catastrophic thinking patterns. For all these reasons, regular physical activity plays an important role in reducing our stress levels and improving our mental health outcomes.

Improving Self-Esteem
Exercise offers a way to build confidence and self-esteem, both of which are vital components of mental health. When we exercise, we get physical results like increased muscle tone that become visible in the mirror. Seeing those visible improvements can give us an instant confidence boost and helps motivate us to set bigger goals in both our workouts and parts of our life. Whether you’re taking on a new fitness class, setting a running goal or bench pressing more weights, exercising is an achievable way to gain confidence and work towards improved self-esteem.

Surprising Findings about Exercise and Depression
Recent studies have been examining the power of exercise as a way to combat depression and other mental health issues. Literature reviews have highlighted some surprising findings about its efficacy. In many cases, the results of exercise-based treatments have surpassed that of established pharmaceutical interventions. This is promising news for individuals who are trying to lead healthier, more balanced lives while minimizing their reliance on medication. Further study will be needed to understand why regular exercise can be so powerful in reducing symptoms of depression, but it is clear that this could be an effective form of treatment in the future.

How to stay consistent?
Exercise is a powerful tool for promoting good mental health, but consistency is key. To maintain a consistent exercise routine, it's important to start small and make it easy and enjoyable. This could be as simple as doing one push-up or taking a 5-minute walk. Doing it in the morning can also be helpful, as you have the afternoon as a backup plan if you skip the morning occasionally. It's also important to be creative with what you consider exercise - it could be a dance class or any other activity that gets your heart rate up and that you enjoy. Additionally, tracking your progress and using apps or fitness trackers can help you stay motivated and on track. Finding an exercise buddy or accountability partner can also be beneficial, as it can make exercise more enjoyable and keep you motivated. Finally, trying out different types of exercise or group fitness classes can keep things interesting and prevent boredom. The important thing is to find something that you enjoy and that fits into your lifestyle, so that you can make exercise a regular and sustainable part of your routine. By incorporating these practical tips into your exercise routine, you can improve your mental health and overall well-being through regular physical activity.

We have a number of skilled therapists at Meridian Idaho Counseling who are trained in areas of the interaction between physical and mental health and are more than happy to help you.  Feel free to give us a call at (208) 803-5339 or email us to set up an appointment or to answer any questions you may have.