The Top Six Mental Health Benefits Of Exercise

Updated January 12, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Taking steps to preserve your mental health can be imperative, but it may be difficult to know where to begin. Since our physical and mental well-being can be intricately connected, it may be important to find ways to nourish and stimulate these two aspects of our bodies simultaneously. For this reason, many people have found that regular physical activity improves their mental well-being in a multitude of ways. In this article, we’ll be discussing six potential benefits of exercise for your mental health.

Want To Understand How Exercise Can Improve Your Mental Health?

A Brief Review On The Importance Of Exercise

According to the National Institutes of Health, aerobic exercise and other forms of movement are linked to a reduction in depression and anxiety. Getting your body moving and engaging in exercise can come with a series of other health benefits as well.

While your mental health can certainly reap advantages from physical activity, so can your emotional and physical health. As you can imagine, different factors of well-being are inherently tethered to one another. This means that your emotional and physical health can impact your mental health and vice versa. For these reasons, getting regular exercise can help you in multiple areas all at once. 

If you are not used to exercising, you may be unsure of where to begin. The benefits of exercise are not mutually exclusive to an intense and rigorous movement. Light stretching, jogging in a park, or running for ten minutes on a treadmill a few times per week can also work wonders. Exercise can help you at all levels; as you progress, you may find yourself feeling ready to take on more intense levels of physical activity. If not, know that you are still benefitting even from light movement. 

The Leading Mental Health Benefits Of Exercise

Science, psychology, and other areas of study have documented the positive impact that aerobic exercise and other forms of physical movement can have on mental health. No matter who you are, what your lifestyle is like, or what challenges you may be facing, it can be vital to take steps to make room for regular exercise. Your mental well-being is worth it. With that in mind, you deserve to know about the following six mental health benefits.

#1 Stress Reduction

Cutting back on stress may be one of the most important mental health benefits that you can get from aerobic exercise and other forms of physical activity. The American Psychology Association explains that 44% of adults engage in walking or other forms of exercise in order to cope with stress. 

Reducing your stress levels may improve the quality of your life and help you focus on important tasks at hand. Regular exercise can improve your interpersonal relationships, manner of processing information, and ability to deal with challenges. Each of these factors can impact your ability to move through the world and carry yourself well. Exercise helps in many ways, but the reduction of stress may be one of the most beneficial reasons to make it a part of your routine. 

#2 Clearer Thoughts And Memories

Another of several mental health benefits of getting in exercise includes clearer thoughts and memories. When you get your body moving, endorphins are released. While these endorphins can make you feel better physically, they can also improve concentration skills and help foster new brain cell growth. Having clearer thoughts and memories can positively affect your mental health, while also being helpful for combating certain declines linked to aging.

#3 Better Sleep At Night

Getting a high-quality, proper night’s rest can be another one of the benefits of exercise. Since regular exercise increases the physical temperature of your body, your brain may have an easier time winding down when you want to sleep at night.

Additionally, another one of the sleep-related health benefits of exercise includes circadian rhythm regulation. Each person’s circadian rhythm determines when they feel sleepy and awake. In the long run, getting a consistently great night’s rest can benefit not only your mental health but also your emotional and physical health. Poor sleep quality is linked to negative mental health outcomes like anxiety, depression, and mania. High sleep quality, on the other hand, is linked to increased productivity, a better mood, and improved memory. 

#4 Allows For Connections With Other People

Interpersonal relationships — or lack thereof — can play a vital role in the mental health of any individual. Since humans are wired for connection, it can be vital to have strong support systems to help us through the hard times and cheer for us during the good times. Thankfully, exercise paves the way for you to interact with and get to know other human beings.

While some individuals prefer and choose to exercise alone, there are several ways to get your body moving alongside other people. Taking workout classes regularly or signing up for a gym membership can help you connect with other human beings. In the long run, these positive relationships can pave the way to better social skills or connections that you previously didn’t have. As you can imagine, all of this can impact the quality of your mental health and change how you see the world. Research shows that those who are well-connected with other people have more positive mental health outcomes, such as reduced stress and healthier emotional well-being. 

Want To Understand How Exercise Can Improve Your Mental Health?

#5 Helps You Learn More About Yourself

Being in touch with who you are can play a vital role in your mental health. If you’re interested in learning more about yourself, then you may want to consider partaking in regular exercise.

As you might have gathered by now, not all forms of exercise are the same. Some people prefer light exercise or aerobic exercise, while others find that more intensive exercise such as high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is more beneficial for them. No type of exercise is inherently “better” than the other. The type of regular exercise that you choose to engage in is up to you; however, it can help you learn more about yourself and your interests. 

For example, you might discover you have a competitive nature when you choose to take up sports. You may learn that you have a passion for running the first time you give the treadmill a chance. Or you might find that dancing pulls you out of your depression after deciding to try a Zumba class. Exercise can help you gain a stronger sense of self-awareness, something which can greatly impact mental health.

#6 Reduces Your Likelihood Of Physical Health Issues

As previously stated, all forms of your health — whether physical, emotional, or mental — are interconnected with one another. This is why a reduced likelihood of experiencing physical health issues is listed as a top mental health benefit of exercise.

Physical health issues can play a very real role in the quality of someone’s mental health. People with concerns about their ability to function, provide for themselves and/or their loved ones, etc. can develop mental health issues like depression or anxiety. However, getting your body moving regularly can reduce the likelihood of coping with subsequent mental health conditions.

Sometimes, prevention can be one of the most important benefits of all, even if you can’t see its impact. Taking care of your physical health can ultimately help you afford the luxury of bypassing certain mental health issues. Practicing self-care can pay off, even if you are not immediately or consciously aware of its benefits.

A Final Word On Exercise And Mental Health

The benefits of exercise on mental health can be undeniable; however, getting your body moving regularly does not automatically mean that you’ll never deal with any challenges in life. Left unchecked, these challenges can take a toll on your physical, emotional, and mental health. Exercise certainly can play a powerful role in the quality of your mental health; however, it is not the only determining factor.

Online Counseling With BetterHelp

Exercise can provide many mental health benefits, but it is not a substitute for therapy and other mental health services. If you are struggling to cope with mental health challenges, know that you don’t have to go through it on your own. BetterHelp is an online therapy platform that can connect you with an experienced, licensed therapist who is trained to guide you toward more positive mental well-being. You can meet with your therapist from anywhere you feel comfortable—as long as you have a reliable internet connection. Connect day or night and choose from mediums such as phone calls, video chats, or messaging. Online therapy lets you take more control over your therapeutic experience. 

The Effectiveness Of Online Counseling

For those struggling with various mental health concerns, online therapy can be an effective tool for healing. One study assessed the effectiveness of an internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy intervention to treat different psychiatric disorders. Researchers found that the program successfully reduced the prevalence and severity of participants’ symptoms of depression, anxiety disorders, OCD, PTSD, bipolar disorder, and more. 

The Takeaway

Regular physical activity can have many mental health benefits, which may make it a worthwhile investment. Often, positive mental well-being is associated with greater outcomes like restfulness, improved connections with others, and stress reduction. The benefits you see in your own life can vary, as everyone can respond differently to various kinds of exercise. If you want to enhance your mental health and exercise alone isn’t enough, working with a licensed online counselor may help. They can offer you support as you make lifestyle adjustments and changes that allow you to grow. 

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