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How To Look After Your Mental Health Using Exercise

Improve mental health using exercise

Improve mental health using exercise - (Image Credit: Shutterstock); Author picture - (Image Credit: Author)

The primary focus on exercise pertains to the physical health benefits both internally and externally. Most notably, losing weight, gaining muscle, lowering blood pressure, or lowering cholesterol, have been the popular motives to get moving. There definitely exists an added benefit to exercise that occurs simultaneously, and those the improvements in mental health.

The challenges of our daily lives can stimulate emotional responses and reactions that result in highs and lows with our feelings. Life isn’t nor will it ever be problem free, but how we react, and our resiliency leads to better or worse outcomes. The demands of family, work, relationships, and homelife, can make us feel pulled in different directions and stifled by so much taking place.

Your mental health is a reflection of how you handle all of this and often times we aren’t prepared for what comes our way. However, we need to find ways to stabilize our mental health so that our fight or flight mode is better equipped. Feelings happy, sad, or mad, there’s no difference.

Your mental health can impact your physical health. We know that excessive stress can cause high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol. Being depressed can lead to lethargy and isolation. Being in a rut can be hard to overcome and even harder when we remain in the same environment.

Getting out and moving is the first step in the right direction that you can take personal control over. Seeking help is also recommended but to help yourself additionally, you can begin an exercise regimen. If you have no idea where to start, start by walking. If you want more help, join a small group or hire a personal trainer.

It is important to note that exercise levels decreased during COVID, while mental health issues greatly increased. This was a true testament of how exercise is important for not just your physical health, but your mental health too.

Most of us feel like we need an outlet or escape to deal with mental health issues, and rather than numbing ourselves with substances or risky behaviors, there’s something better we can do….. EXERCISE.

Here Are 5 Ways Exercise Can Look After Your Mental Health

1. Body Image

Our reflection in the mirror corresponds with our self-esteem and self-efficacy. Not liking what we see can lead to lack of self-confidence and insecurities. Exercise can change your reflection. Be it losing weight, toning, or putting on muscle, when you exercise you are taking your reflection into your own hands. You are the creator of your own image.

When we earn anything in life, the value drastically increases, so when we look in the mirror and know that we have worked hard for our body via exercise, we feel empowered. We can hold our head a little higher, feel better in our attire, and not shy away from mirrors.

Body image is powerful and can dictate our personal level of being comfortable in our own skin. Exercise to create the image you want to see in order to take charge of your mental health pertaining to your self-esteem.

2. Mood Improvement

Positive endorphins are released during exercise which active the mind’s reward system. This is the same reward system triggered by other habits such as alcohol or drug use, however, this is a natural and beneficial type of high. In doing so, anxiety and depression can be warded off.

These endorphins are neurotransmitters that tell your brain you are feeling good and you want more of this feeling. Ever heard of the “runner’s high”? A feeling of euphoria can be reached via exercise. Exercise is natural mood boosting medicine for your mind.

When you are doing something positive for yourself, this transcends into feeling positive and more optimistic about life.

3. Stress Reduction

Stress Reduction
Getting away from life’s demands can be difficult, but having your time to exercise can help alleviate the pressures of your day. Exercise can improve your cognitive functioning and even help with alertness and concentration. Stress can make you feel depleted mentally and exercise can regenerate your focus. This makes you feel less overwhelmed.

You might forget what has been irritating you during exercise which gives you relief. Think of it as your therapy time. You are stepping out of a stress environment or place in your head and “working out” or “sweating out” negativity. Exercise can quiet the noises task master in your head that causes stress among your thoughts.

4. More Energy

Your blood starts pumping and circulating when your body moves. Your heart likes to pump and will start to pump from this enjoyment giving you a new sense of mobility and energy. As your cardiovascular fitness improves, you increase your stamina and endurance so tasks that once made you feel depleted no longer require the previously needed energy, which means you can do more.

Having more energy is good for your mental health because you feel more capable, ready, and confident you can get more done. Working on a rundown system or one that is fatigued makes life less enjoyable.

5. Better Sleep

When the brain operates on little sleep, little gets done. Your mind needs sleep to re boot and feel recovered. A foggy brain is not a productive mindset. Exercise can let your body feel more relaxed and tired once you do hit the pillow and help you sleep more soundly.

It won’t necessarily wear you out, but you will feel ready for bed and get to sleep much more quickly versus still having pent up energy from a lethargic and inactive day. Tired muscles want their down time.

Better Sleep

There is such thing as a mind-body connection. When you exercise you are communicating the following to your mental health:

  • You care about yourself and your health enough to exercise.
  • You want to improve something about yourself and are exercising to do so.
  • You want to feel good physically and mentally by exercising.
  • You are worth the time for self-care by exercising.
  • Exercise is part of your lifestyle.

Ignoring your health or procrastinating better health choices have previously told your brain that you don’t have time or don’t care to help yourself.

In turn, your mental health envelopes this mindset which is a downward spiral. Think of exercise this way:

1. Many forms

To be clear, exercise can happen in many different forms. This can include walking, swimming, yoga, weightlifting, running, dancing, hiking, biking, surfing, skating, etc. it doesn’t mean making your way to the box gym 5 days a week for2 hours. Make exercise realistic for your mind. You are trying to eliminate stress, not take on more.

2. Replacement therapy

Exercise can also serve as a type of replacement therapy to improve mental health. Exercise can replace alcohol use, substance abuse, watching T.V., sitting, playing on the computer or different video games, spending unnecessary money on going out, or even taking boredom naps.

3. Self-project

Exercise can be a project for yourself to take on. You can create goals to work towards and start to put all the necessary pieces together of your blueprint. This can be fun too by creating your gym or even buying athletic wear. After all, the best project you can work on is in fact, yourself.

Finally, heal yourself with exercise

Exercise is healing through movement. Trauma and pass experiences can attribute to mental health and while cognitive therapy may be needed, exercise is a type of alternative therapy to assist. You are letting positive endorphins make their way into your mental space. Instead of suppressing or bottling up emotions, you can release them by moving your body in a positive way.

Letting your mind constantly revisit something is not healthy mentally, so exercise can be a distraction for this. I have personally used exercise as a healing outlet. Sitting still and feeling unoccupied triggers negative feelings for me. The silence makes me “feel”, so for me exercising is the escape.

Heal yourself with exercise

It doesn’t mean I’m avoiding feelings, rather, I recognize my mental health waivers when the feelings build up. As someone with anxiety, an unoccupied mind leads to wondering and skimming over all the possibilities that exasperate worrying. When I exercise, I start to feel better thoughts and a better mindset.

Our body hears what our mind communicates to it. Use exercise to start complimenting yourself with the accomplishments and progress you achieve. When you finish a workout, tell yourself, “Good job”. Even when you finish a set, you can keep yourself motivated with positive affirmations.

Exercise opens the mind’s door to better mental health. All you have to do is open that door and step forward. Exercise is the opportunity knocking. If you already exercise, now you have even more purpose to continue.

If you haven’t exercised in years, well it’s time to get moving and now you have just another factor telling you that exercise needs to be a priority. If you are going to live this life, living with better mental health certainly improves the quality of your days and time.

Disclaimer: This article is intended for informational purposes only. The content on our website is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or therapy. You should NEVER disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking treatment due to something you have read on our website and we will not be held responsible for any adverse health condition or injury that occurs as a result of doing so.
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Megan Johnson McCullough

Bodybuilder, Author, and Fitness Model

Megan Johnson McCullough is the owner of Every BODY’s Fit, fitness studio in Oceanside CA. She is an NASM Ma...

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