When you are struggling with your mental health, it can be difficult to get through the day. From struggles with motivation, low self-esteem, poor physical health, and overwhelming feelings to the practicalities of getting out of bed, every day can feel like a battle.
So, when people like us come along suggesting that exercise can help, it often makes you feel worse.
However, exercise can be one of the best ways to manage negative mental health symptoms. Whether you are struggling with anxiety or depression, we understand the challenges you are facing. It can feel incredibly isolating. But there are people who understand what you are going through.
Therefore, here we share the benefits of exercise and some practical steps that will help you make small changes each day towards bettering your health.
The Benefits of Exercise for Mental Health
When you are struggling with your mental health, it can be a struggle to take the first step towards improved mental wellbeing. Often, the thought of doing any form of exercise can feel impossible. However, by taking things one day at a time you can introduce new structures and routines that help.
According to Tikvah Lake Recovery, “When you’re suffering from feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness, overcoming depression [and anxiety] can seem like an impossible struggle, but you can reclaim control of your life step by step.”
Let’s take a look at the benefits of exercise for your mental health.
Releases Feel-Good Endorphins
One of the most beneficial reasons for exercising when you struggle with your mental health is that exercise releases feel-good endorphins. According to WebMD: “These endorphins interact with the receptors in your brain that reduce your perception of pain.” This means that every time you exercise, your body releases endorphins and other natural brain chemicals that improve your mood, reduce your pain, and enhance your mental wellbeing.
There are numerous types of exercise that lead to endorphin release. In fact, moderate to vigorous exercises such as strength training, running, pilates, and cycling can lead to a surge in endorphins that help you fight the effects of stress and mental health conditions.
The great thing is that you can get this endorphin boost simply by exercising for 20-30 minutes. So, a brisk walk along the beach, a run around your neighbourhood, or cycling to work can help increase your endorphin levels and make your mental health symptoms more manageable.
Reduces Symptoms of Anxiety
Exercise provides a great relief for anxiety. It helps to:
- reduce stress
- relieve tension
- enhance wellbeing
- increase your energy levels
Have you ever noticed how anxiety is affecting your body physically? You probably hold a lot of tension in your neck, lower back, and shoulders. This can intensify headaches, discomfort, and muscle cramps.
What’s more, you might experience a racing heart, sweaty palms, and difficulty breathing. All of these physical symptoms can worsen anxiety and make your daily life an uncomfortable struggle. Thankfully, regular exercise is a great way to counteract and manage these symptoms.
Exercising when you have anxiety is a great way to root yourself more firmly in the present and engage in mindfulness. Not only will you enjoy the physical benefits of regular exercise, such as improved physical health, appearance, and fitness, but you will strengthen your mind.
Exercising is one of the most effective ways to break the cycle of anxiety, reduce your physical symptoms, and manage your mental wellbeing. As your body starts to feel better, your mind will too. Exercise is a great way to break the punishing cycle of anxiety and make your daily life manageable and even enjoyable!
Can Be as Effective as Antidepressants
Studies have shown that exercise can have the same benefits and psychological impact on the body as antidepressants, making it an effective way to manage mild to moderate symptoms of depression. It’s natural, it doesn’t cause any negative side effects, and in many instances it is free.
Exercise is a popular treatment and is often recommended by doctors as an effective management technique to help ease symptoms of depression.
In fact, according to the Huffington Post, “in the last five years, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) has re-worked the guidelines for clinical practice in the treatment of major depression. One of the treatments included in the new guidelines is regular exercise.”
One of the most common complaints of individuals struggling with their mental health is the complete lack of energy their symptoms can cause. Whether they are suffering from anxiety or depression, people report extremely low energy levels throughout the day. This can have a tremendous effect, both personally and professionally, on their daily lives.
Thankfully, exercise can help. Even a small amount of exercise can make a big difference to your mood and your energy levels. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Exercise delivers oxygen and nutrients to your tissues and helps your cardiovascular system work more efficiently. And when your heart and lung health improve, you have more energy.”
Perhaps most importantly, exercise can regulate your sleep patterns by promoting healthy sleep rhythms – and we all know what a good nights’ sleep can do! The better you sleep, the more energetic and present you will feel during the day.
Regular exercise can also help you build mental resilience and strength by providing the stress release you need, the increase in quality sleep, and the endorphin boost that keeps you going all day long.
How to Get Started
As we mentioned at the beginning of this article when you are struggling with your mental health, hearing all the things that can help can be frustrating. After all, you probably know what would help but you just don’t know how to get from where you are to where you should be.
If you feel this way, the best advice we can give you is to take one day at a time.
Start with small steps and slowly build from there.
When it comes to exercise, getting started is often the hardest part. That’s why we share below how you can maximise your chances of getting started, maintaining a good routine, and getting the most out of your efforts.
Choose an Exercise You Enjoy
You’re not going to go to the gym 3 times a week if you hate working out there. So, don’t set yourself unachievable goals. Start by choosing something you enjoy.
That might mean following along with an exercise routine on YouTube from the comfort of your home. Or you might opt for an early morning walk when it’s quiet and you can get the headspace you need. If there are physical activities you enjoy, start with these because you’re more likely to stick with something you actually enjoy doing.
Struggling with your mental health can be a lonely experience. We know how hard it can be to reach out and ask for help. However, we all need support from friends and family at one time or another. So, don’t be afraid to send a text message to those closest to you asking for their support.
That might look like a workout buddy, a gardening date, a game of basketball, a daily phone call or encouraging text, or a person you can reach out to when life feels overwhelming. We cannot understate the importance of having support from those you care about.
Start Exercising Slowly
It can be easy to set yourself the goal of a 1-hour walk every day. However, when you’re struggling with your mental health and you feel so different day-to-day, these goals can sometimes be a little bit unrealistic. We recommend starting slowly.
That might look like tailoring your plan to your needs rather than specific guidelines you feel you should meet.
So, instead of a specific exercise, you could set yourself the goal of being active for 10 minutes each day. And, if some days that looks like simply walking up and down the stairs for that amount of time, it’s a good start.
Exercise for Better Mental Health
If you are struggling with your mental health, we hope you have found this article helpful. Your mental health journey is as individual as you. However, we hope you know there is support available. If you want to exercise but you’re struggling to get started, speak with your GP or support person and ask for help.
More often than not, getting started is the hardest part. Once exercise is a part of your daily routine, we feel confident you will start seeing the benefits in your daily life.
Who is the author? With a MSc in Psychology, Sophie Bishop is deeply passionate about sharing advice and knowledge on improving mental health and wellbeing. She feels it’s important to discuss issues around anxiety, depression and burnout across a range of sectors and professions.
She has previously written about Important Mental Wellbeing Practices for High-Performing Athletes for BOXROX.