Getting Your Mind in Shape: Why is Physical Activity Important for Mental Wellbeing?


You’ve probably heard of the many ways regular exercise can boost your physical health. Exercise can help you control your weight, increase your good cholesterol levels and fight off high blood pressure. Did you know, however, that exercise also helps your mental wellbeing?

Why is physical activity important for your brain? Read this helpful guide and you’ll know more on how exercise gets your mind in shape as well as your body.


Why is Physical Activity Important For Mental Wellbeing?

Doctors know that physical exercise is essential to mental health and recommend exercise for their patients to help them alleviate stress or negative moods. Patients often report that they have more creativity and clearer thinking once they’ve hit the gym. These positive changes lead to greater self-esteem and positive relationships with others.

Research also shows us that physical activity can help reduce many serious mental health conditions. Some of these serious mental health issues range from schizophrenia to bipolar disorders. In these extreme cases, exercise can be prescribed as a separate treatment plan or in combination with the patient’s other mental health care.


What Happens to Our Bodies When We Exercise?

Exercise changes the levels of hormones in our brains. These hormones regulate our moods. When we exercise, we can activate the hormones that trigger positive mood changes.

Some of these hormones include Serotonin and Endorphins. High levels of Serotonin can alleviate depression. Physical exercise will also release higher levels of Serotonin through our bodies that can leave us feeling happier and more confident.

Physical activity can also stabilize our neurotransmitter levels. Neurotransmitters send chemical signals between our nerve cells and other cells throughout our bodies. These chemical signals normalize our sleeping and concentration levels which all lead to a better mood.

When these functions are acting effectively, our spirits are brighter. We’re able to think clearly as we progress through our days.


Exercise for Mental Health

Now that we know what’s happening in our bodies while we exercise, it’s important to know how a regular routine can help improve your mental wellbeing.


Crowds Out Negative Thoughts

Physical activity requires focused attention. Lifting weights, reaching yoga poses or swinging a tennis racquet all take concentration. If you don’t pay attention to what you’re doing, you might hurt yourself.

When you concentrate on completing a specific step or swing, you’re distracting your mind from negative thoughts. Physical workouts will give you that structured time to be aware of your current movements. Refocus your attention to the tasks in front of you and watch that negative thinking melt away.


Reduces Stress

Physical activity increases the hormone Norepinephrine in our brains. This chemical helps moderate your brain’s reactions to stress. Norepinephrine fuels our fight-or-flight response and prepares us to react to or retreat from a threat.

When our Norepinephrine levels are stabilized, we’re able to meet negative challenges head-on. Depression can be a natural response to these negative aspects in our life. When our Norepinephrine levels are healthy, we can quickly respond to everyday stress in the most constructive way possible.


Improves Self-Confidence

Exercising a few times a week can also boost your self-esteem as you watch your physical progress. Sticking to and reaching your physical health routine goals can only give you great satisfaction and healthy mindset. That 10-minute jog that use to be impossible now seems easy as you watch your self-confidence build.


Slows Down Cognitive or Memory Decline

Regular exercise has the power to change our brains to improve our sense of recall and ability to think. When we get older, diseases can kill off our brain cells and shrink our brains. As a result, we lose important brain functions such a memory and concentration.

Regular physical activity helps support the Hippocampus sections of our brain. Exercise will boost chemicals to this section of the brain that we use for learning and reasoning. Degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s or dementia can be slowed down if we hit the tennis courts on a regular basis.


Barriers to Exercise for Mental Health

Now that you know that exercise and mental health go hand in hand, it might feel like it’s time to act today. But taking a first step might not seem so easy. Physical activity obstacles can be very real. Here are some familiar roadblocks and how you can move past them.


Too Tired

When you’re stressed or exhausted, you may feel like exercising will make you even more tired. Regular exercise, however, increases your energy levels to get through those stressful days. Release those Endorphins and the 5-minute walk you thought wouldn’t happen magically turns into a 15-minute stroll.


“Exercise is a Chore”

When we consider exercise as another obligation, it’s easy to feel resentful for this additional responsibility. It’s also no fun to satisfy this task if it’s considered anything but fun. Stop thinking of working out as a chore and reframe your attitude.

Rather than noticing how heavy the weights are, think about how lucky you are to be able to physically handle this exercise. Persons with disabilities would trade places with you in a minute. Think about the goals you’ll meet when your workout is over rather than noticing how hard it is to get to the gym.


Low Self Esteem

We can be our own worst enemy. We may feel like there is no hope for someone so unhealthy who has no experience exercising. No matter what your weight or fitness level are, you’ll soon see that there are others at your same starting point with goals like you.


Too Painful

If you have a severe weight problem or any injury or illness like arthritis, you may be concerned with exercising safely. Exercise doesn’t always mean running a marathon. There are plenty of sitting and stretching exercises for those with limited mobility to reduce pain or discomfort.


How to Get Started Exercising

All of these barriers listed above may make perfect sense and seem like good reasons not to begin an exercise program. If we are depressed or suffering from other mental health conditions, we may feel like we have no ability or motivation to turn our sad circumstances around.

The secret is to start small and set easy, achievable milestones to help you stay motivated and reach your goals. You should also exercise in a way that makes you feel comfortable and safe so that you won’t have to wait until you recuperate to resume after an injury. Here are few ideas to get you started.


Set Short Exercise Periods for Yourself

When you’re suffering from a mental disorder and haven’t exercised in a while, setting unrealistic goals for yourself will only sabotage your success. You’ll feel defeated and ready to give up if you expect Olympian performance from the start.

Schedule 15-30 minutes of exercise time three days a week. Pay careful attention to any pain you feel. Talk to your doctor if any aches persist.

Be sure to schedule your workouts during the time of day when you energy is at its peak. This may be first thing in the morning or after you get home from work at night. Using your energy when it’s at its highest will give you the motivation you need to push yourself further and increase your activity.


Do the Activities That You Like

Any interest that gets you up and moving around, qualifies as exercise. Running, cycling or even gardening are great ways to increase your heart rate, if they are pursuits that you enjoy. Pursuing activities that others decide are good for you won’t leave you feeling accomplished but rather resentful and not interested in continuing.


Be Safe and Comfortable

Choose an exercise setting that leaves you feeling calm or energized. That setting might be a gym, path through the park or your very own living room. Choose the right setting and you won’t have a host of excuses to why you can’t exercise.

Be sure to wear clothing and footwear that fits you right. Footwear that’s too big or too small can increase your chances for injury. Your whole regime will be thrown off and your progress lost if you have to wait to heal.


Reward Yourself

Reward yourself when you surpass an exercise goal with your favorite piece of fruit Treat yourself to a phone call to your best buddy when you get home from the gym.

It’s time to be your own best friend here. Acknowledge your progress! You’ll stay motivated to do your workout if you know there is a prize waiting for you when you’re done.


Socialize When You Exercise

Exercising with friends can help reduce anxiety and other mental health disorders. Surround yourself with people at the same starting point as yourself. Enthusiasm and encouragement will prevail because your are all working towards the same goals.


Next Steps

Feel like you’re better informed on knowing why is physical activity important? Still seeing roadblocks that keep you from hitting the gym like you should? Try some of these extra tips to keep you motivated.

Set a recurring calendar alert for yourself at your peak energy level of the day to remind yourself to workout. If you join a gym, hire one of their personal trainers to help you. Paying an expert is good motivation to justify your expenditure.

Don’t forget to check our website for more helpful advice on exercise and mental health concerns. Preserving your fit body and sharp mind is our number one goal!

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