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Exercise and Your Mental Health

Exercise and mental health - Women practicing yoga together and sitting in the lotus pose: mindfulness meditation, spirituality and healthy lifestyle concept

When we live in a world filled with stress and constant demands, maintaining mental health is crucial. While the importance of regular exercise in promoting physical health is widely acknowledged, its profound impact on mental health often goes unnoticed. 

There are many reasons why exercise is beneficial for mental well-being, such as the following:

  • Release of endorphins. Exercise can trigger the release of endorphins, also known as the feel-good hormones. These neurotransmitters act as natural mood lifters, helping to reduce signs of stress, anxiety, and depression.
  • Reduction of stress hormones. Engaging in exercise reduces the levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, contributing to a calmer and more relaxed state of mind.
  • Improved quality of sleep. Getting enough regular exercise is linked to better sleep quality. Having a well-rested mind makes you better equipped to manage stress and make better decisions.
  • Enhanced cognitive function. Exercise can improve your cognitive function. This includes memory, attention, and problem-solving skills. Exercise promotes the growth of new neurons in the brain, fostering better mental agility.

In addition, exercise is often incorporated as part of treatment for mental health conditions. It can be used for the following reasons:

  • Stress relief. Physical activity is a powerful stress reliever, offering a healthy outlet for the tension that accumulates in one’s daily life.
  • Anxiety management. Exercise helps manage anxiety by promoting relaxation and reducing the intensity of anxious thoughts. It can give you a much-needed break from worry and overthinking.
  • Depression management. Studies suggest that regular exercise can be as effective as medication in managing mild to moderate depression. It encourages the production of neurotrophic factors, supporting the growth and maintenance of neurons.
  • Boost self-esteem. Achieving fitness goals, no matter how small, contributes to an increased sense of self-worth and confidence. This positive feedback loop is beneficial for mental well-being.

For those recovering from a substance use disorder, exercise has the benefits mentioned above as well as the following:

  • Positive coping mechanism. Exercise serves as a positive coping mechanism, providing an alternative way to manage stress, anxiety, and negative emotions without resorting to substance use.
  • Mood regulation.  Since exercise releases endorphins, this can be helpful for individuals dealing with mood swings and emotional challenges during recovery.
  • Reduce the risk of relapse. Exercise reduces stress levels by lowering cortisol, the stress hormone. This is crucial for individuals in recovery, as stress can be a trigger for relapse.
  • Provides a social connection. Participating in group exercise classes, sports leagues, or fitness groups can create a sense of belonging and social support, which is crucial for recovery.
  • Develop a routine. Incorporating exercise into a daily routine provides structure. Establishing healthy habits can replace the chaotic patterns associated with substance use.

Workout Ideas to Consider

No matter your fitness level, there are workout ideas for all abilities and lifestyles. Consider the following:

Aerobic Exercises

  • Brisk walking or jogging
  • Cycling
  • Dancing
  • Swimming

Strength Training

  • Bodyweight exercises such as push-ups or squats
  • Resistance training using weights or resistance bands

Mind-Body Exercises

  • Yoga
  • Pilates
  • Tai Chi

Top Apps for Various Fitness Levels

If you need help establishing an exercise routine, the following free and paid apps can help you get started.

Free Apps

Paid Apps

  • Peloton: Requires a membership to access live and on-demand classes, including cycling, running, and strength training.
  • Fitbod: Creates personalized workout plans based on your fitness goals and available equipment.
  • Headspace: Combines mindfulness with physical activity, promoting holistic well-being.

Adding exercise to your daily routine is a proactive step towards maintaining good mental health. The benefits extend beyond physical fitness, positively impacting mood, stress levels, and overall cognitive function. Whether you prefer high-intensity workouts or gentle mind-body exercises, there’s a form of exercise that can suit your preferences and fitness level. Take the first step towards a healthier mind by embracing the power of physical activity.

If you or a loved one are struggling with mental health issues, Peak Behavioral Health is here to help. Located in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, our behavioral health center provides services to help those suffering from issues that interfere with their daily life such as emotional, mental, behavioral, and/or substance use concerns. To find out more, please contact us today.

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