Physical Exercise Benefits Mental Health. Physical activity (PA) benefits mood, sleep, and cognition. Several studies have shown that PA protects against the development of anxiety and is useful as an anxiety treatment.
Physical activity may help ward off mental health problems before they start. Additionally, research shows exercise can improve the symptoms of many existing mental illnesses.
How Exercise Impacts Mental Illness
Mental health professionals often prescribe exercise as part of the treatment for specific mental illnesses.
Exercise can alleviate many of the symptoms of depression, such as fatigue, tension, anger, and reduced vigor.
For people with panic disorder, PTSD, and other anxiety-related conditions, exercise can be a proactive way to release pent-up tension and reduce feelings of fear and worry.
Exercise also decreases sensitivity to the body's reaction to anxiety, as well as decreases the intensity and frequency of panic attacks in some cases.
Additionally, a regular exercise program can help ease symptoms of other common co-occurring conditions, such as IBS.
Types of Exercise
Fortunately, there are many types of exercise that can improve mental health. From weight lifting to running, it's important to find exercises that you enjoy doing. Here are some types of exercise that can be good for mental health:
Yoga can range from gentle to challenging. The most common form of yoga (hatha yoga) involves physical poses (known as asanas), controlled breathing, and periods of meditation.
Yoga is a low-risk method for healing the body and mind. Often the positive effects can be felt after just one class.
Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese martial art that combines meditation and rhythmic breathing in a slow series of graceful body movements and poses (also called forms). Tai Chi has been shown to:
- Reduce stress
- Lower blood pressure
- Reduce anxiety
- Improve depressed mood
- Increase self-esteem
- Aerobic Exercise
There is growing research evidence that regular aerobic exercise (such as running, cycling or swimming) is associated with better psychological health.
Although studies have focused on depression, panic disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), there's also some evidence to suggest a positive effect of exercise on social phobia.
Both single sessions and long-term programs of aerobic exercise have been shown to provide a positive benefit for psychological health.
Although as little as five to 10 minutes of aerobic exercise can help to improve your mood and reduce your anxiety, regular programs, lasting from 10 to 15 weeks, seem to improve one's overall mental state.
Before You Begin
If you are just starting out with an exercise program, it's important to consult with your doctor to determine the best form of exercise and intensity level for your physical condition.
Your medical history, current medications, and diagnosed conditions can all play a role in your ability to exercise.
If you suspect you have a mental illness or you're being treated by a mental health professional, ask about how you can incorporate physical activity into your treatment.
A qualified mental health professional can make suggestions about the best strategies for treating your specific condition.
How to Start an Exercise Plan
Once you have obtained your doctor’s approval and recommendations, you will want to decide on an exercise program that's right for you.
Do you want to take a class? Could it be helpful to hire a trainer at the gym? Do you prefer to go for a walk on your own time while listening to your favorite music? The key to sticking with a program is to find something that you enjoy doing.
When starting a new exercise plan, you may initially feel very motivated. This motivation to exercise can be extremely beneficial in helping you get started on your new exercise plan.