Physical Activity and Improved Mental Health
Physical activity is one of the best activities a person can perform, with a wide range of physical benefits to their overall health.
The best part about it is that anyone can do physical activity at any time. Whether it is a moderately brisk activity, such as a walk around your neighborhood, a bike ride, or a cardio session at the gym (while wearing a mask and practicing appropriate social distancing procedures), you can do any sort of activity you want for exercise.
The benefits range from not only improving your physical stamina, but you are also improving your muscle tone, bone health, and weight management. Physical exercise isn’t just about losing weight or maintaining your weight, though.
Benefits for your brain
What is lesser known, is that physical activity can improve your mental health. One of the immediate benefits of physical activity is that you are immediately improving your brain health once you complete at least one session of moderate exercise. It can improve your cognition function, as well as offer short term relief from anxiety and/or depression. Physical activity also improves your sleep habits, which also improves your overall health.
One of the key things to remember about physical activity and your mental health is that like with any new habit—whether you are trying to eat a healthy breakfast in the morning or trying to learn a new skill, etc—you have to be consistent with it. If you are not consistent with, say 20 minutes of walking a day, you will not experience any of the benefits of exercise. It has to be consistent, and of moderate activity level each and every time. No matter what level of fitness you are at, or how much you weigh.
Physical activity has been shown to reduce depression and anxiety, in the same manner as taking an antidepressant. This is due to the fact that when you exercise, you are reducing inflammation in your brain, encouraging neural growth, and releasing endorphins throughout your entire body which (temporarily) promotes feelings of happiness and joy.
Physical activity also releases tension in your body—particularly your muscles—which helps reduce the amount of stress you literally feel. When you feel tense, this can induce several symptoms, including neck/back pain, muscle cramps, insomnia, or a stomach ache, of which can induce more stress, leading to worse symptoms. When you release these tensions, physically, it will help your overall physical and emotional health.
Physical activity is not just about maintaining or losing weight—or even about specifically reducing feelings of anxiety or depression.
All of those things will come with the new habit that you are building. It is about improving your life—your physical, mental, and emotional health with a healthy, sustainable new routine.
When you open yourself up to a new routine, you open up your entire world. You are making a change—instead of choosing to sit in bed or on the couch and hide away from everyone when you feel low, you are opening yourself up.
When you choose to exercise, not only are you opening your brain up to those endorphins, but you are putting yourself in a new situation. You are opening yourself up to new activity, to potentially meeting new people, and to improving your overall stamina.
Also, you are using a healthier coping mechanism!
If you are having trouble starting, then just start with a simple activity—like walking up and down your driveway for five minutes in the morning before you get into your car to go to work. Try to work up to doing this a few times a day. Then upgrade to getting up early or working a 20 minute walk (or longer!) into your routine.
These times are difficult for all of us, especially those who suffer from intense feelings of anxiety or depression that can strike at any moment. You can take some preemptive steps to help improve your overall health so that you are better prepared when you do start to feel intense emotion.
Consistency is key!
If you skip a day, don’t obsess over it—just shake it off and keep going. Do not “give yourself permission” to skip the rest of the week and “restart on Monday”. Just restart. Make better choices now, not next week, next month, or next year.
Moderate Activities for you to Enjoy at Home (20 minutes or more):
- Walk around your neighborhood
- Walking up and down stairs during commercial breaks
- Yard Work
- Yoga (free youtube videos)
- Jumping on a Trampoline
Adrean Pearson, LPC Intern Adrean Pearson is a Mental Health Coach at the Hope and Healing Center & Institute and has a Masters in Counseling from Trevecca Nazarene University and a BA in Psychology with a concentration in Human Services from the Pine Manor College.
Hope and Healing Center & Institute