Like begets like – a sedentary lifestyle harms mental health, and the opposite holds true – a more active lifestyle has a positive effect. Suppose you find your lifestyle includes an abundance of sitting. In that case, you'll end up with stiffness, aches and pains, and a compromised immune system. These complaints and ailments will harm your mood. When you're not feeling physically well, your mental health suffers.
Movement and exercise also release endorphins, the body's natural pain and stress relief. Movement also energizes us, increasing blood flow to the brain and air to the lungs, which helps reduce cortisol, the "stress hormone."
Movement can even increase the size of the brain causing new neuro connections to form that result in improved retention, critical thinking, and learning facility.
Regular exercise can be as effective as medication or psychotherapies on your mood. Get moving to:
- Improve sleep
- Reduce depression
- Reduce anxiety
- Manage ADHD symptoms
- Improve memory / cognition
- Improve self-esteem
Research shows that group exercise (moving in synchronicity with others) can even help you feel more connected and with an improved sense of community.
Ok, so you’re ready to start feeling better mentally and physically. Does that mean you need to take up running or join a gym? Not really. There's no one-size-fits-all approach to what types of exercise benefit which mental health categories. Riding your bike, stretching, swimming, or dancing around to your favorite song will boost your mood. It’s more important to choose something you enjoy and can stick with.
If becoming a high-impact-seeking gym rat isn’t your thing, don’t worry. Taking a daily walk with a friend can go a long way to relieving stress and depression.