How Do Exercise And Mental Health Relate To Each Other?

By BetterHelp Editorial Team|Updated July 10, 2022

The benefits of regularly exercising are plentiful. Regular exercise can improve your cardiovascular health while also making you stronger and leaner. But did you know that it can also improve your mental health? Whether you seek a supplemental treatment to help manage your depression or are dealing with a stressful project at work, starting to exercise for mental health can benefit you greatly.

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How Exercise Can Improve Your Mental Health

So, how does exercise connect to your mental health exactly? Multiple studies have found that exercise can help relieve stress and anxiety. This decrease in negative emotions can be attributed to the added levels of endorphins, and serotonin exercising produces. These chemicals are known to improve one’s mood and sense of well-being.

Working out can also help you take your mind off the different stressors you are facing. Maybe you need help coping with a divorce or a recent setback in life. Exercising can help alleviate anxieties and stress over these events while also helping you build confidence. As a result, regularly exercising can continue to improve your mental health over time.

Other benefits of exercise include:

  • Improvement in sleeping patterns
  • Better memory
  • Feeling more energetic throughout the day
  • Increased self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Being motivated to choose healthy methods to handle stress
  • Improved mood and outlook on life
  • Feeling more positive
  • A decrease in stress and anxiety
  • Having access to an inexpensive method of managing mental illness

Exercising To Supplement Treatment For Mental Illness

When people think of taking care of their mental health, images of going to the spa or reading a good book typically pop up in their minds. While these are perfectly fine methods for nurturing your mental health, it might also be beneficial to add some exercise into your mental health routine.

While you don’t have to begin training for a marathon, you can add some enjoyable aerobic exercises into your everyday routine. Whether you start taking a long walk during lunch or gardening in the mornings before work, adding these exercises can supplement your current mental health treatments.

Regularly exercising can help relieve many different mental health conditions, such as:

  • Depression — a mental health disorder characterized by persistent feelings of sadness and a loss of interest in daily activities
  • Schizophrenia — a serious mental illness that affects how people interpret reality; symptoms may include disorganized thinking and speech, hallucinations, and delusions
  • Anxiety Disorder — mental health disorder that causes people to experience feelings of intense fear or worry; includes disorders such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, and a phobia or intense fear or something specific like spiders or flying
  • Substance Use Disorder — also known as drug addiction, substance use disorder can develop from the constant use of drugs or alcohol; people with an addiction have trouble cutting themselves off from these substances and may struggle with work, school, or their personal life as a result
  • Bipolar Disorder — formerly known as manic depression, bipolar disorder is characterized by extreme mood swings filled with periods of intense highs and lows
  • Borderline Personality Disorder — mental health disorder that warps one’s thoughts and feelings about themselves, which can lead to low self-esteem and entering unstable relationships

If you struggle with chronic pain or illness, regular exercise can also help manage these painful disorders.

Fun Fitness Activities You Can Try To Help Improve Your Mental Health

Are you still new to exercising or building a fitness regime? Check out these fun and challenging workout ideas below!

  • Yoga for stretching, strength, and mindfulness
  • HIIT for intense cardio in an upbeat atmosphere
  • Personal weight lifting training to strengthen the mind and the body
  • Learning a new sport such as surfing or horseback riding
  • Rock climbing outside or at a rec center
  • Hiking outside to enjoy nature and take some time for yourself
  • Running outside to improve your cardiovascular health
  • Practicing Pilates with friends to achieve better balance and core stability

Whether you decide to sweat it out at a Zumba class or practice your deadlifts, you are sure to leave feeling refreshed and energized. Many activities, such as walking your dog or trying horseback riding, can be quite therapeutic. Hanging around animals can actually help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety as well.

Tips For Staying Motivated

With everyday stressors such as work or school, it can be challenging to begin a fitness routine to treat your mental illness. However, you can do a number of things to start your fitness program off on the right start.

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You should first assess your current fitness level. Some people work with trainers to figure out how fit they are while others just make an educated guess based on their current workout routine. Once you determine your current level of fitness, you can set some goals for yourself. This can be anything from “perform ten push-ups in a row” to “run an entire mile without stopping.”

Next, you should figure out when you can fit some workouts into your schedule. Some people block out times on their calendar to workout while others join together with friends to workout together. Many people benefit from hiring a personal trainer to help them out. Their personal trainer can help them assess their current fitness level, create realistic goals, and challenge themselves during every workout.

FAQ About Exercise And Its Effect On Your Mental Health

Have any specific questions about how exercise can improve your mood and overall mental health? Whether you are just starting out a new fitness program or you are looking to change up your current methods, it never hurts to learn more about how exercising impacts your mental health. Check out our FAQ section for more information now!

Can exercise completely replace taking medication or mental health counseling?

Exercising can be extremely effective in treating both your physical and mental health. But can it completely replace medication and/or mental health counseling. According to Harvard Medical school professor, Dr. I-Min Lee, it can. Exercise is not only an effective type of medicine, but it comes with much fewer side effects.

The proof is in the research. Multiple studies in the past have found that exercise can lower blood pressure, ease symptoms of depression, improve sleep, and reduce your risk of developing heart disease. While you will still want to seek help from your primary care physician for guidance on medication and counseling, you should consider using exercise as a supplement to these treatments.

What are some easy, low-impact exercises I can try?

If you are just starting to get into shape or you have an injury you need to work through, you have a number of different exercise programs you can try out. Some popular, low-impact aerobic exercises you can try out include:

  • Stationary biking
  • Brisk walking
  • Swimming
  • Water aerobics
  • Running on the elliptical
  • Cardio kickboxing
  • Rowing
  • TRX circuits

As you continue through your fitness journey, you will figure out which exercises you like best and which ones just aren’t your style.

Can exercise help people struggling with an eating disorder?

Exercise can help people who are struggling with an eating disorder. However, they should not start a fitness program until they have been cleared by their doctor. Some patients who are diagnosed with an eating disorder engage in a compulsive exercise in order to achieve their “goal” weight. That’s why it’s crucial for patients to abide by their physicians’ advice and slowly begin to become more active as they continue to recover.

I don’t really like exercise. What can I do to stay in shape?

When people think of exercise, they usually envision people lifting heavy weights at the gym or running miles across rugged terrain. But there are other ways to stay in shape without feeling like you’re training for a powerlifting event or a marathon.

Try integrating exercise slowly into your life. You can start by taking short walks in the morning with your dog or practicing some yoga poses after work. Finding fun exercise classes like cycling or Zumba can help you get a good workout while staying motivated and energized by your classmates. As you continue to work out and get in shape, you will find yourself more motivated than ever to get out and exercise!

Is it possible to exercise too much?

Yes. A small percentage of people struggle with compulsive exercise, also known as exercise addiction. They might skip social events or professional work events so that they can exercise. When they don’t exercise, they may feel extremely guilty or anxious. People who are addicted to exercise may also workout despite feeling ill. Overexerting yourself can lead to physical problems and make you susceptible to injury.

Are you struggling with depression and anxiety? Have you noticed that your partner hasn’t been acting like their usual self? It might be time to contact a mental health professional for help. Online professional mental health counselors at BetterHelp will help you recover from and manage whatever mental health problem you are dealing with. Contact our team today to learn more information.

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