When was the last time you got physical? Known as the natural mood booster, exercising is one of the best activities you can do for your mind and body. Not only does it give you a feel-good sensation post workout, but it is also the remedy for stress, depression and other negative emotions.
Most importantly, physical activity is the key to maintaining positive mental health.
According to a recent study, people who exercised had fewer days of poor mental health compared to similar individuals who did not exercise. No matter where you fall on the physical spectrum, all movements can improve your health.
Always wanted to try Zumba? Do it. Run a 5k? Start now. Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity or even three to five times a week of 30 to 45 minutes can make a difference.
What Happens When You Exercise?
“Exercise increases blood circulation to your brain, including areas like the hypothalamus, which in turn communicates to the other regions like the limbic system, amygdala and hippocampus,” said Dr. Yazhini Srivathsal, a psychiatrist with Banner Behavioral Health Hospital. “These regions are responsible for your mood, fear and anxiety response, motivation and memory and help decrease depression, anxiety and improve memory.”
"If you’re curious as to why you feel so good after you exercise you can blame it on endorphins, which are the happy chemicals released during and after a workout. Exercise also helps in promoting growth of new circuits in your brain and reducing inflammation."
The Benefits of Physical Activity
If you’ve been stressed or anxious lately, the repetitive movements during a workout may help relax muscle tensions as you focus on the “here and now”, which in return can provide benefits similar to meditation and can leave you feeling rejuvenated. Focusing on movement helps more than just staying in the moment, it also gives your brain a workout.
In addition to reducing stress and anxiety, physical activity has many other benefits:
- Improves memory and decreases the risk of memory issues, cognitive decline and dementia
- Improves self-esteem making you feel stronger, giving a sense of accomplishment while taking care of yourself.
- Improves sleep by making you physically tired.
- Improves creativity giving your brain that much needed “cognitive pause” where it can help you change your perception and come up with new ideas.
- Gives time for yourself – “me” time, some quiet time to process your thoughts and feelings.
- Lowers the risk of metabolic diseases like obesity, hypertension (HTN), coronary artery disease (CAD) and diabetes, and improves bone health.
It can also help with addition issues by promoting healthier coping skills, rather than focusing on negative ones, and gives you something else to focus on. “Exercising alters the reward pathways of the brain, so this in addition to the mood elevating properties, and stress reduction properties, helps in dealing with addiction,” stated Dr. Srivathsal.
Looking for Ways to Get Active?
Whether you’re staying at home or venturing outside, there’s a variety of routines you can try today.
Home: Stretching and chair exercises, active computer games, virtual workouts with loved ones and online workout class.
Outside: walk, bike or run around the neighborhood or local park. Hike a new trail or revisit an old one.
No matter what activity you partake in, it’s important to continue taking safety precautions during the pandemic.
- Workout when it’s not crowded
- Wear a mask if you have one, or even a cloth mask or bandana.
- Practice physical and social distancing
- Avoid touching public surfaces ex: handrails
- Take off your shoes and outdoor gear before you enter your home
- Don’t go outside if you think you might be sick
- Wash your hands
Whether you’re a novice or a marathon runner, there’s no better time to get active than now. "The mind and body connection are so strong, when your body feels good and refreshed, so does your mind,” stated Dr. Srivathsal.
For more advice on how to manage your mental health during this uncertain time consult an expert, schedule an appointment with a Banner Health behavioral health provider.