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7 Reasons to exercise for your mental health

It’s no secret that exercise isn’t just good for your physical health, but did you know that the most effective way to boost serotonin (a feel good chemical produced in your brain) naturally is to get your body moving. According to Beyond Blue exercise can be just as effective as therapy and medication for treating mild-moderate depression.

Here are seven reasons to exercise for your mental health.

  1. Reduce stress – exercise produces endorphins. These chemicals that are produced in our brain act as natural painkillers, improve immunity and improve the ability to sleep, all of which are very effective in reducing stress and leave us feeling more energized and ready to cope with daily challenges.
  2. Boost your mood – a recent study conducted at Harvard Medical school showed that running for 15 minutes a day or walking for an hour reduces the risk of major depression. This is thought to be due to the boost of serotonin and endorphins that are produced when we exercise, particularly during aerobic activity.
  3. Improve self-esteem – regular exercise often leads to feelings of achievement, an improved body image and increases physical health which in turn lowers the risk of chronic disease. All of these contribute to sense of well-being improving self-esteem.
  4. Increase your confidence – when we set ourselves realistic, attainable goals and we take the steps to work towards these we set ourselves up for success which leads to increased confidence in ourselves and our ability to achieved desired targets.
  5. Improve your sleep –a study at the National Sleep Foundation found that moderate intensity aerobic exercise (eg walking) reduced the time it took to fall asleep and increased the length of length of sleep for people with chronic insomnia compared to a night in which they did not exercise. Another study showed that after 4 to 24 weeks of exercise, adults with insomnia fell asleep more quickly, slept longer and had better sleep quality than before they began an exercise regime. This may be due to the fact that exercise increases body temperature and the post exercise drop in temperature may promote falling asleep. Exercise may also reduce insomnia by decreasing arousal, anxiety and depressive symptoms.
  6. Help manage addiction – exercise has been shown to help decrease or manage withdrawal symptoms in people recovering from addictions making recovery more promising.
  7. Improved social connection – exercise is often a shared activity and therefore you get the added benefits of social connection.

Now of course this is all very well and good but we all know the hardest part is getting started. Especially when you are experiencing a mental health condition that is very likely affecting your motivation. It’s important to remember that the actions of well-being come first and the feelings of well-being will follow. If this is you, try the following steps from Beyond Blue to help you get started.

Find your reason – eg to gain more energy to keep up with your kids or to reduce your risk of metabolic disease.
Start small – if you are not currently engaging in any type of exercise activity even just getting up and walking around your backyard or into your street and back is a great start and gradually build up your frequency and intensity.
Make it part of your routine – you are much more likely to stick to your plans if you factor it into your daily life, for example every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 4:30 I will go for a half hour walk.
Do something you enjoy – if burpees aren’t your thing then don’t plan them into your routine. You are much more likely to stick to something if you enjoy it.
Find a workout buddy – when it comes to exercise adherence, we know that you are much less likely to cancel plans when you’ve organized to meet a friend. Perhaps get your work colleagues out for a walk in your lunch break.
Make it fun – make a playlist with all your favourite workout tunes and songs that energize you. You are much more likely to work harder and enjoy your workout when you have inspiring music playing in the background.

If you would like to learn more about how exercise impacts your mental health or you need some help getting started then get in touch with us at Shoalhaven Psychology Services.

Emma Lightfoot


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