We all know the physical benefits of exercise; improved fitness and ability, better overall health and a longer life. You’ve probably also heard that exercise can improve your mental wellbeing — something vaguely referred to as ‘releasing endorphins’.
However, the capabilities of exercise for mental health are much greater than that. In fact, exercise can make a huge difference to your mood. In particular, regular exercise can really help people living with anxiety, stress or anxiety-based depression. But how does this work?
In the article below, we’ll be exploring some of the many positive effects that exercise has on our mood. Read on to find out more:
Exercise releases ‘happy chemicals’
Doing any form of exercise releases endorphins. These are chemicals in the brain (known as neurotransmitters) that make you feel happy and energised. They can also help to alleviate the feelings associated with anxiety and depression.
Exercise also stimulates the production of another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Dopamine is often known as a ‘happiness chemical’, but what it really helps you to do is stay motivated, focused and productive. This encourages you to push yourself and achieve more, ultimately lifting you up and help to counteract those anxious feelings and symptoms.
Exercise can help to relieve stress
If you’re feeling stressed or anxious, these feelings can often manifest in physical symptoms.
Your muscles will tense up, leaving you with aches and pains — particularly in your back, neck and shoulders, and result in tension headaches. You may also experience a tight chest, heartburn, stomach aches, and a high heart rate.
Of course, all of these symptoms can really make you worry and further add to your stress, making you feel worse and creating an exhausting, neverending cycle.
Exercise can reduce the impact of stress on your body, by relieving the tension and stress that you carry in your muscles.
Even just a small workout can increase blood flow to your muscles, keeping them oxygenated and working well — and warding off muscle tension. It can also help to lower your blood pressure and tackle other stress symptoms.
You don’t have to run a marathon to do this either. Low-impact activities like yoga will relax the muscles and improve your circulation, breaking the stress cycle.
Exercise can promote mindfulness
Exercise can help to promote mindfulness — a mental state where you are fully present and aware of what you’re doing, rather than feeling overwhelmed by everything around you and the thoughts in your head.
This is sometimes known as ‘meditation in motion’. By concentrating on the rhythm of your movements and how your body feels, you can practise being present and focus on your body, rather than your mind.
This concentration on one physical task — whether it’s swimming lengths, running or climbing up a hill — promotes feelings of calmness and clarity.
Find the type of exercise that resonates with you and makes you feel calmer and more concentrated. We’re all different, so this could be anything from jogging to pilates to kick-boxing. It’s up to you.
Exercise can improve your sleep
Doing even just a bit of exercise regularly can help to improve your sleep and tackle anxiety-related symptoms such as insomnia and sleep deprivation.
As little as 10 minutes of aerobic exercise — like walking or cycling — can hugely improve the quality and duration of sleep, and help to regulate your sleep patterns.
This is because exercise tires you out (unsurprisingly) and prepares your body for sleep, by first elevating your temperature and then dropping it a few hours later — which triggers sleepiness. It also reduces your stress levels, as we’ve mentioned earlier, which allows you to fall asleep quicker.
Anxiety and sleeping difficulties are closely intertwined; by reducing your stress levels through exercise, you can get enough good sleep to help treat the effects of anxiety.
Exercise can boost your self-esteem and confidence
Anxiety can often be tied to how we look, as well as how we feel. When you’re unhappy about your mental health, this can also have a knock-on effect on how you feel about your body too. Low self-esteem and confidence can both have a huge impact on your mood.
Exercise can help to tackle these confidence and self-esteem issues. Not only are you helping your body to get into shape and physically transform, but you’re also changing your mental approach to your body and your appearance.
Regular exercise — such as jogging, swimming or even walking more — can help you to feel stronger, fitter and more confident, which will all contribute to boosting your happiness levels.
As you can see, there are some fantastic mental health benefits to exercising. If you’re struggling with anxiety or an anxiety-based condition, then exercise could really help to treat your symptoms.
Although it may feel difficult and overwhelming to begin with, you can start small and work your way up. Set achievable goals, exercise when your energy levels are high, and reward yourself after.
Focus on activities that you enjoy and find fun; not all exercise has to be based in a gym! Take a walk in the countryside, go dancing with friends, or try some outdoor yoga. Simply by exercising regularly — whichever activity you choose — you’re naturally improving your wellbeing and mental health.