The impacts of exercise on mental health
The fact that there are a huge number of mental and physical benefits to exercise is probably not news to you. Exercising regularly can do wonders for your body and brain, including a slew of benefits for your mental health. Amidst all of the uncertainty we are enduring, exercise is one thing we have at least some control over. Implementing an exercise routine – or revising your current one – may have very positive impacts on your mental health.
For one, exercise has the power to reduce stress levels. Stress is a natural reaction to everyday adversities, but elevated stress levels can have negative impacts on your body, such as insomnia, irritability and muscle tension. Exercise can break the cycle of stress by relaxing muscles and releasing those magical endorphins we’ve all heard so much about.
A regular exercise routine will also increase your general energy levels. As your aerobic capacity increases, more oxygen can be delivered to your brain and bloodstream, allowing for heightened energy production and helping you feel more awake. If you are working from home, constantly in the same environment with little form of stimulus or excitement, this heightened energy can be particularly beneficial.
Another benefit of exercise is its power to improve the quality and duration of your sleep. Your body temperature rises during physical activity and its drop a few hours later can induce sleepiness. Timing workouts to improve sleep quality is dependent on the individual, as our bodies react in different ways to different types of exercise.
Listening to your body
The benefits of a planned routine are plentiful, but it can sometimes be difficult to follow a schedule. When we’re feeling down, the last thing we might want to do is to get up and get moving, even if we’ve planned exercise for that day or time. Fortunately, the benefits of exercise are both short-term and long-term – so exercising regularly will have good impacts on your overall general mood.
If planning your exercise with structure and schedule makes it seem like more of a chore to you, it’s not necessarily harmful to be looser with your schedule. Some people like to set an exact time and routine for their exercise, while others like to work off bursts of energy. What’s most important is to find the routine that works for you.
It may also be beneficial to listen to your body in terms of what workout you want to do. Sometimes, for example, the best thing for an anxious mind is not a high-intensity workout, but rather yoga, pilates or a mindful run. If you want to read about some of the benefits of yoga, check out our article here.
Leaving the house
As the days get colder, like every year, it can be tempting to stay within the cosiness of your own home and not head outside for activity. At-home workouts are fantastic, and with the abundance of YouTube videos and apps available to us, have never been more accessible. But fresh air every now and again is still good for you, even if that air is a bit chilly.
If you’re stuck at home, running or walking is a good excuse to leave the house for a while and get a change of scenery. Caution should be taken within the given lockdown measures, of course. If at all possible, try to run in less busy areas or roads where it’s easier to practice social distancing.
If you’re feeling particularly stressed, try to take note of the things around you as you pass them. Notice the people and the things you see – and if you’re really willing to commit, take out your earphones and listen to the sounds of everything around you. Being conscious of your surroundings can draw your attention away from the thoughts in your head, and maybe even make you appreciative of sights and sounds you haven’t noticed before.
There’s no shortage of benefits of exercise for your mental health, along with a bunch of benefits for your physical health and physique. It can be difficult to make time for exercise, particularly if it’s not something you’re accustomed to doing or if you don’t feel like doing it on a given day. But now more than ever is the time to look after our mental health, to make sure we are taking care of our minds and bodies. I urge you to start today.