Exercise and Mental Health: Happiness and Healing Through Physical Activity

Get Active and Become Healthier

Featured Image via Pexels

It’s long been known that exercise is critical for physical health – a regular exercise regimen reduces the risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, strokes, and contributes to a longer lifespan and increased well-being.

Exercise has also been associated with increased quality of sleep – especially REM sleep, which is when the body has the least amount of muscle tone and is at its deepest, most restful state.

However, recent research suggests that exercise doesn’t just have physical benefits – but mental health benefits that can be highly beneficial to those among us who suffer from issues such as anxiety and depression.

Understanding The Benefits Of Exercise For Mental Health

Aerobic exercises such as jogging, bicycling, swimming, rowing, and other activities that active and use the cardiopulmonary system have been shown to aid in reducing the effects of both anxiety and depression.

The exact cause for this is unknown, but there are several hypotheses to explain this phenomenon. One hypothesis is that extended exercise helps increase blood flow to the brain, and activates the HPA system – the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.

This part of the brain communicates with many brain systems that control mood and reaction to stress, including the hippocampus, amygdala, and the limbic system. The increase in blood flow allows these brain structures to function more efficiently and contributes to feelings of well-being and better mood.

Regardless of the method of action, it’s clear that exercising can be an important aspect of a comprehensive mental wellness plan, and should not be ignored when determining a course of treatment, either on your own or with a medical professional.

Exercise Also Improves Self-Esteem and Cognitive Function

Naturally, exercise is also a huge boost to one’s self-esteem. Even if you don’t see a large change in your body type or your muscular structure, exercising and improving yourself makes you feel much better about yourself – and that in itself can have a huge effect on your mental health, confidence, mood, and well-being.

Depression and anxiety often have roots in self-image issues, and working to become a “better you” each day is an excellent way to help mitigate those feelings of self-deprecation.

Exercise can also have a huge effect on cognitive function – the increased blood flow to the brain has been shown to help improve mental fitness and cognizance, and even reduce the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s and dementia later in life.

Swimming Your Way to Fitness and Mental Health
Swimming Your Way to Fitness & Mental Health. Image via Pexels

Is Exercise Enough To Help My Depression Or Anxiety?

The short answer is no. The longer answer is – ask your doctor. Exercise can be a fantastic way to assist you on your journey towards mental wellness, and should never be overlooked as a method by which you can improve (or sustaining) your mental health.

However, it’s no replacement for treatment by a professional and the usage of other resources such as online forums about mental health, and apps such as Paralign, which can help those in need of support connect with each other.

Starting an exercise regimen is a fantastic way to feel better about yourself, and we encourage you to do so. Your body, mind, and spirit will thank you, and they will all benefit from your new dedication to physical well-being.

Mental Exercise: One excellent way to boost your mental abilities and be more in tune with your inner strengths is to practise mindfulness meditation which we write about in this post. Check it out.

Last but Not Least: A great support system plays a huge role in boosting one’s mental health and in making one more regular in adopting a healthy physical exercise regiment. Why not join Paralgin where you can get such a support system by befriending people with similar challenges and goals anonymously?