Movement is Medicine: Mental Health Benefits of Exercise & How to Get Started
Updated: Mar 7
Exercise: it's a concept we're all familiar with, but it's something many people struggle to enjoy, do regularly, or feel confident in doing. Many of the reasons that prevent people from creating a consistent exercise routine can be deconstructed through simple education. The more we know about how much better moving our bodies can make us feel, the more we're inclined to create a routine that's just right for us!
We're going to explore the mental health benefits of exercise, different ways people choose to move their bodies, and tips to help you create a consistent routine.
Mental Health Benefits
It's obvious that moving our bodies contributes to our physical health, but did you know about all of the mental health benefits, too?
Reduces anxiety, depression, and negative moods - physical activity increases endorphin levels, which is the chemical produced by the spinal cord and brain, that causes feelings of happiness
Positive impact on addiction - endorphins are the same neurochemical that's released in our brains from drugs and from exercise. If you struggle with addiction, exercise is an excellent coping skill to give you what you're brain's been seeking all along: a rush of endorphins
Positive impact on ADHD - exercise requires a set of skills needed to plan, organize, and remember details, all of which help improve executive functioning. It also enhances the working memory and helps improve impulse control while reducing compulsive behavior
Improves self-esteem - exercise will bring about physical accomplishments. People have many different goals, ranging from losing weight to gaining muscle mass. The confidence that comes with getting closer to whatever goals you set for yourself can give you a huge boost of self-esteem
Decreases stress - as heart rate increases, stress-reduced brain damage begins to reverse by increasing norepinephrine, which improves cognition and cloudy thinking. It's also forcing the body to communicate with the sympathetic nervous system, creating the ability for the body to respond to stress in healthier ways
Boosts your brain - cardio exercises literally create NEW brain cells through a process called neurogenesis, and this improves our overall brain performance. It also helps to prevent memory loss and cognitive decline by strengthening the part of our brain that's responsible for memory and learning (hippocampus). This is such an important benefit as we age! And, if you're in need of some creative energy, experts recommend exercising to give yourself a creative boost!
Better sleep - when we're physically active, our body temperature increases. This increase of body temperature works as a calming effect on the mind. It also helps regulate our circadian rhythm. One caveat to this is to not exercise too close to bedtime. Remember how it boosts our brain function? The last thing we need before we go to sleep is for our brain to be working overtime!
What Are My Options?
We live in a day and age where a plethora of exercise options exist for everyone. Gone are the days of exercise being something we "have" to do; it's now becoming something we WANT to do because of all the different choices! We have the ability to find a way to move our bodies that brings us joy, and when exercising, that's what matters most.
To start, you'll want to ask yourself the following:
What physical activities do I like doing?
Do I enjoy lifting weights?
Do I like to run?
Do I like long workouts filled with more mobility-based movements or short workouts with high intensity movements?
What can I afford right now?
What is 1 goal I have for myself?
After you answer those questions, you'll have more of an idea of the direction you'd like to go in your exercise journey. Listed below are a few body movement options. Pick the ones you know you'll love, revisit ones you've done in the past, or try something new! Remember, there are options for everyone. Moving our bodies doesn't have to be a chore. It can be something that brings us life and joy.
Yoga and/or Pilates
HITT (high-intensity interval training)
Cycling/ Bike riding
Creating a Consistent Routine
Maybe it's easy for you to accept the mental health benefits of exercise, and maybe you have an idea of the type of body movement you want to start doing! But when it comes to creating a consistent routine, this is usually where people start to lose momentum. How are we supposed to fit exercise into our busy lives when we work, are parents, have hobbies, take care of our home and all the duties that come with that and spend time fostering our relationships, all while making sure we get sleep at night?
It sounds daunting, and maybe you feel like exercise is just another thing you need to add to your list. I want to encourage you not to look at exercise from a defeating lens. Instead of thinking about how much time it will take, start thinking about how much it will enhance the life you already have.
In order to create a consistent routine, we first need to ask ourselves this simple question:
Am I morning person, or a night person?
If you're a morning person, it isn't difficult for you to wake up early to start your day. In fact, you might even set an early alarm just because you enjoy mornings so much! If this is you, mornings are going to be your prime time to work out. You have energy, you have time, and your motivation is at its peak in the morning.
If you're a night person, your creativity and energy are flourishing in the evening hours. You enjoy staying up late and are really productive as the sun goes down. If this is you, nights are going to be your prime time to work out. Remember, don't work out to close to your bedtime. But if you're able to fit in a work-out session immediately after you're finished with your work day, creating a fitness routine will be easier than you think.
The next question we'll ask ourselves is:
2. On average, how long do I want my workouts to be?
The great thing about your fitness routine is that it's yours. You get to decide how much time you can dedicate to moving your body, and the length of time could vary depending on the day and what you have going on. To form a pattern of consistency, commit yourself to working out for at least 20 minutes for the first few months. You can increase this as you see fit.
Lastly, we'll ask ourselves one final question:
3. What are my goals?
Your goals can be anything you want them to be: continuing to be mobile as you age, increasing muscle mass, learning to love body movement, losing weight, increasing self-confidence, wanting to keep up with your kids and/or grandchildren, or just simply because you want to take care of your body.
Your goals will be one of the biggest motivating factors to maintaining a consistent workout routine.
Movement is Medicine
Moving our bodies changes our lives. We can't discount the physical and mental health benefits that come from body movement and how vital it is that each of us establishes a routine that's unique to us and fits how we love to move.
Remember, it doesn't have to be a chore. Find what you love, and go for it.
Therapy can be a great tool to help you get started on creating a wellness routine that's conducive to your life. If you're interested in setting up an appointment, visit our therapists here.