We all know that exercise is good for our physical health…but it’s also REALLY GOOD for our mental health as well. Exercise releases endorphins (our “feel good” chemicals) that can help alleviate depression and anxiety. Exercise can relieve tension and stress, decrease ADHD symptoms in kids, and increase relaxation (I don’t know about you, but I feel super relaxed after a gym session or a run. Like, so relaxed I fall asleep in my chair).
One of the things that I
make encourage all my clients to do is get some form of exercise, even if it’s just a 10-15 minute walk per day. If they can’t do it on their own…well, we’re going to do it together! I have, in fact, dragged some of my clients out for a walk around the block. Many of them report that they feel a lot better even after that short period of time. I practice what I preach, too. I feel SO MUCH BETTER and less stressed if I exercise after a crappy day, even though that’s usually the last thing I want to do.
I’m going to explain a little bit about how exercise benefits mental health today. As always, exercise is going to “cure” you if you’re suffering from a mental health condition. I encourage you to seek professional help along with starting an exercise regimen.
So. How can exercise benefit certain mental health conditions?
Exercise and depression: Remember those endorphins we talked about above? Yeah, they make you feel good…which is the opposite of depressed! Not only does exercise release endorphins, but it promotes neural growth, meaning your neurons can repair themselves. More neural connections, in some scientific eyes, means less depression. Depending on the type of exercise you’re doing, you’re also using different parts of your brain, which can promote healing. Last but not least, exercise serves as a distraction from the depression.
Exercise and anxiety: Ever feel incredibly keyed up and the only thing that works is movement? Bingo, you might be feeling anxious. I know that when I get nervous or anxious, I NEED to move. I pace, shake my leg, whatever – just to get that energy out. Sometimes you really just need that physical release of energy to feel better. Also, be mindful when you exercise. When I run, I pay attention to my breathing and the rhythym of my feet hitting the ground. This in and of itself is calming and I often distract myself from my worries.
Exercise and ADHD: Anyone who’s dealt with a kid who has ADHD knows that they have SO. MUCH. ENERGY. ALL. THE. TIME. Solution? Exercise. It doesn’t even need to be structured. When I worked in schools, the kids and I would walk the hallways if they needed to release some of that energy, or we’d go into the empty gym and we’d shoot hoops. In the summer, I came up with creative ways to get that energy out (playground games, obstacle courses, etc).
Exercise and stress: Your body is a really great indicator of when you’re stressed. You might experience indigestion, headaches, muscle pain…the list goes on. When your mind is stressed, your body tends to follow. So, destress your mind! Not only does your body release the endorphins which help you feel better, but increases blood flow to muscles and helps you relax!
I totally understand the argument that you don’t want to exercise if you’re feeling depressed, anxious, stressed, etc. I promise you it’s the last thing that I want to do as well. But you know what? Sometimes that’s the best thing. As Nike says…Just Do It!
Share with me: what benefits of exercise have you reaped personally?