We have written previously about how regular exercise helps to cope with symptoms of depression, improve general mood, decrease cognitive problems, and relieve anxiety and stress, among a host of other psychological benefits to exercising. While just five to 10 minutes of aerobic exercise may be helpful in improving your mood and decreasing anxiety, it seems that a consistent routine lasting anywhere from 10 to 15 weeks will enhance an individuals general state of mind. The physical health benefits of exercise can enhance your general happiness.
In addition to having a direct impact on stress levels, regular exercise also contributes to optimal health through other means. Many forms of exercise reduce stress directly, and while it may prevent physical illnesses, exercise has additional benefits to your mind. Mental Exercise Reduces Stress, Too Physical exercise helps to ease stress, but so do mental exercises.
Remember, too, that mental exercises are a time-honored method of stress reduction (see Box). If you need additional stress relief, consider self-regulation exercises that include deep breathing or muscle relaxation. Research shows that exercises of any type can be effective ways of managing stress and staying mentally healthier. It might sound counterintuitive that exercise, which is a form of physical stress, could help your body cope with overall stress levels.
Studies have shown that although exercise initially increases your bodys stress response, after bouts of physical activity, people experience lower levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine. Exercise lowers levels of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol in the body.
Physical activity relieves stress, which can also improve symptoms of anxiety and depression. In addition to relieving symptoms of depression, studies have shown that maintaining a regular exercise routine may keep you from falling into a relapse. Exercise routinely may positively affect your mood, relieving the tension, anxiety, anger, and slight depression that usually goes along with stress.
It may boost your quality of sleep, which may be adversely affected by stress, depression, and anxiety. Exercise can also reduce stress, boost your memory, help you sleep better, and boost your overall mood. It reduces tension and stress, increases physical and mental energy, and improves wellbeing by producing endorphins.
Exercise also stimulates the production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that are a bodys natural painkiller and mood booster. Exercise and other physical activities create endorphins–chemicals in the brain that serve as natural painkillers–and they also enhance your ability to sleep, which, in turn, decreases stress. Exercise is also considered essential to maintaining psychological fitness, which may lower stress.
If you exercise regularly, it may decrease your stress levels and symptoms of mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety, as well as aid in recovering from mental health problems. No matter your age or fitness level, you can learn to use exercise as a powerful tool for managing mental health issues, improving your energy and outlook, and getting more from your life. Obviously, it is important to include exercises, of any type, in your regimen, but there are some exercises that can help mental health better than others.
Regular exercise may also help to strengthen your immune system and lessen the effects of stress. Taking up exercise appears to lower your risk of developing mental illnesses. Healthy habits, including regular physical activity like walking, may help to lessen or prevent some of the damaging effects of stress.
Another way exercise helps quiet your mind is that being physically active and focused on your body helps to cancel out other thoughts. Exercise is also said to promote meditation in your muscles, where your muscles are focused on one particular activity. Exercise can also reduce the bodys susceptibility to the reactions to anxiety, and can reduce the severity and frequency of panic attacks in certain cases.
For individuals suffering from panic disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other anxiety-related conditions, exercise may be a proactive way of freeing accumulated tensions and decreasing feelings of fear and worry. Evidence suggests that by truly paying attention to your body and the sensations of it while exercising, you may actually help your nervous system to break free and start moving away from the irrational stress responses that characterize PTSD or trauma. If you are suffering from depression or anxiety, you know in certain particular moments, the last thing you might want to do is move your body–but exercise can play a critical role in managing your symptoms, thanks to the powerful connection between your physical and mental well-being.
You know that exercising makes you feel better, but depression has taken away the energy and motivation that you need to exercise, or social anxiety means that you cannot stand the idea of being seen in a gym class or running through a park. Depression leaves you feeling low on energy, and that may keep you from being more active.
Whether you take part in a gym class or you play softball in a league, exercising with others can provide a double dose of stress relief. Working out with others also adds to the stress-reducing benefits of exercising. Exercising with a partner also helps reduce worries about what your body looks like to others, and this may be especially beneficial in your early workouts.
When you regularly exercise, whether it is going to a gym or your usual route while you are out for a run, you get to meet and make friends with new people along the way, which can increase your social circles. Sharing your exercise routines with family members or friends may make exercising more fun and less like work.
Exercise offers the chance for interaction and for social support when exercising with others. It also gets you out into the world, helping reduce any feelings of loneliness and isolation, and connecting you to others. Research shows exercise is highly effective in decreasing fatigue, improving alertness and focus, and improving general cognitive function. There is growing evidence from studies showing regular aerobic exercise, such as running, biking, or swimming, is associated with better mental health.
Improving overall health and longevity through exercise saves you lots of stress both in the short term (by strengthening immunity against the common cold, the flu, and other small illnesses) and the long term (by helping you to remain healthier for a longer time, and enjoying your life more as a result).