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The Benefits of Exercise on Mental Health

We all know that exercise is good for your physical health, but did you know it’s also good for your mental health? Physical activity has many short and long-term benefits for your brain, and can even help manage symptoms for those struggling with their mental health. 


Male friends working out in living room

In this article, we’ll go over the science behind how physical activity can benefit your mind and share some tips on how to get started, no matter where you are in your mental health journey. 


What are the benefits of exercise?


Research has shown that engaging in regular physical activity can help improve your mental health by:

  • Boosting mood and energy levels

  • Reducing stress

  • Inspiring pride, self-esteem, and a general sense of wellbeing

  • Enhancing cognitive function

  • Improving the quality of sleep


The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology recommends that adults over the age of 18 engage in at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-to-vigorous intensity exercise, with each session lasting at least 10 minutes. Moderate activities, like pilates, taking a walk, or yoga, should noticeably raise your heart rate, but you should still be able to have a conversation. Vigorous activities, like kickboxing, HIIT workouts, or CrossFit, will raise your resting heart rate significantly, although you shouldn’t feel uncomfortable. 


While physical activity can never replace professional treatment, it can alleviate symptoms for those suffering from anxiety, depression, and other mental health struggles. 


Why does it work?


Physical activity signals your brain to produce ‘feel good’ chemicals and hormones, like endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin. These chemicals help you feel relaxed, feel more pleasure, and overall make you feel happier, even after a short burst of activity. 


Staying consistent with physical activity has also been shown to lower rates of anxiety and depression compared to those who don’t engage in regular exercise. The regular activity, and release of those ‘feel good’ chemicals, can help your brain better cope with stress, reducing feelings of depression and anxiety in the long term. 


Staying motivated 


If you’re struggling with mental health, it can be really difficult to motivate yourself to exercise. However, there are strategies you can use to help keep you motivated and get you moving. 


Setting small goals is a great way to keep you from getting overwhelmed. Instead of focusing on the large goal of running a marathon, start with taking a walk around your block. Walking is one of the easiest ways to move your body, and even short distances can benefit your mental health. It’s all about the journey, and the small wins along the way, instead of the destination!


Another way to stay motivated is to create a routine you enjoy. Adapting to a new routine can be difficult, but if you’re excited about the change it will be easier to stick to it. Taking a fitness class at a gym or your local community centre can help you build a routine since they usually happen at the same time each week. Plus, you’re likely to see the same students returning each week which can build a sense of community, providing support and motivation throughout each workout! 


It only takes one step


No matter how you choose to stay active, every effort you make will have a positive impact on your mind. Even a short walk or workout can have immediate effects on your mental health, and over time consistent exercise can have many benefits for your mind, including improving your mood, boosting your self-esteem, and reducing stress. All it takes to start is one step, and you’re on your way!

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