Exercise and its Effect on Mental Health

There are lots of reasons to work out. Regular exercise improves your health, can reduce your weight, can reduce your likelihood of developing all manner of diseases and disorders, etc. Perhaps one of the most important reasons to get regular exercise–and, in spite of its importance, one of the least often talked about–is it’s benefit to a person’s mental health.

Exercise has long been known to improve a person’s mental health. The best way to sum it up simply is with a quote from the Reese Witherspoon movie, Legally Blonde: “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people don’t shoot their husbands. They just don’t.”   exercise and its effect on mental health

For context: her character is defending a client on trial for murder. Reese’s character is not implying that everyone with mental health issues is a murderer.

There are a lot of reasons that regular exercise can help someone better cope with a problem like depression, anxiety, PTSD, etc. According to a study published by the National Institute of Health, exercise provides a variety of stimulation ranging from the physical effect the increased activity has on the pituitary gland, particularly the HPA axis point which includes the limbic system (which is responsible for regulating mood and motivation), to the increase of blood flow to a person’s brain, and even to the psychological benefit gained from social interaction, distraction, etc.

Nobody is really questioning the benefit that exercise has on the brain and a person’s moods. There is ample scientific evidence to prove that one of the best things a person suffering from depression, anxiety, trauma, etc. can do is get up and move around on a regular basis.

Of course, having that knowledge and acting on it are two different things. If it were really that simple to just get up and get in a workout, everybody would do it, right? Someone who is suffering from a mental health issue is going to need a little bit more help getting up and getting started than someone whose brain functions “normally.”

If you suffer from depression, anxiety or other mental health issues, here are some hints and tips that you might try to help get yourself up and moving.

Start Small

Jennifer Lape, a therapist and blogger from TherapyTribe, suggests starting to increase your movement slowly as a way to get used to the idea of working out before you actually start working out in earnest. She suggests that the best way to do this is to look for ways to increase your daily activity like parking at the far side of a parking lot instead of in the closest space to the doors of a building and taking the stairs instead of the elevator (for at least a couple of floors).

By starting small you can teach your body that moving around isn’t as hard or as tedious as the depression in your brain is trying to convince you it is. The more you do these things, the easier it will be to accept the idea of getting up and moving around just to get up and move around.

Get a Buddy

Mental health issues increase a person’s likelihood to “hermit up” and isolate themselves from their friends and communities. One of the reasons that exercise helps combat depression and anxiety is that it gets a person out of the house and into the world. This can be intimidating when you are first starting out, so why not start small and with a buddy?

Ask a friend to meet you regularly for a long walk. You can even grab coffee or food while you’re out. The point is to get out of the house and to move around while you’re doing it. After a while you can explore the idea of jogging with someone or joining a workout group (or building one out of your existing social scene, if you have one). You don’t necessarily have to join a gym or take a class to get that social interaction. You can build it through existing connections.

Use an App

If you’re not ready or feel too uncomfortable to approach someone else about working out with you and you’re intimidated or uncomfortable about the idea of a class or gym setting, why not get up and move around at home? There are a lot of great workout apps that you can use to help you get in shape in the comfort of your own living room. Heck, you can just turn the music up loud and dance around for twenty minutes if that feels like it could be fun.

The point is to get up. Move your body. Then do it again the next day. It’s okay to take things slowly and ask for help. You’ll get there! We promise.