5 Reasons Exercise is Great For Your Mental Health

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During these unprecedented and stressful times, it’s more important than ever to practice the act of self-care. While your self-care routine previously may have included activities as simple as carving out 10 minutes a day for a quick meditation, finding a quiet moment to read a few pages of a good book, or binge-watching a new Netflix show, you might be surprised to discover how much better you’d feel if you added just 20 to 30 minutes a day of exercise to that list.

Without forcing myself to get up and move my body a little every day, my anxiety and depression would consume me. In fact, they were consuming me, and that’s exactly why I had to get myself back in the habit of working out regularly.

Especially on the days I’m feeling my worst, it’s imperative to get outside, breathe some fresh air, and feel the sun on my face. Now, I’ll be the first to admit, there are days when I legitimately cannot get myself to be active and have to instead listen to the needs of my body and mind. Days of rest to let your body and mind heal are equally as important to your overall health and well being. But days of rest feel even better when I know I’ve earned them.

Not everyone grew up playing sports or participating in active pastimes, so not everyone is wired to think about getting their body moving in that way every day, but 30 minutes a day of exercise doesn’t need to be a crazy HIIT workout or an intense run, it can be as simple as walking around the block a few times while listening to an episode of your favorite podcast and admiring the trees and flowers along the way.

And if you’re not convinced by my personal testimony that finding some time every day to get your heart rate up will change your life, here are 5 mental health reasons you may want to consider:

  1. “Feel-Good” Chemicals: exercise decreases stress hormones like cortisol and increases the “feel-good” chemicals in your brain like endorphins and endogenous cannabinoids (your brains natural cannabis-like chemicals).
  2. Promotes Confidence: achieving exercise goals that you’ve set for yourself is a great way to grow your self-confidence. When you finish that 5k, make it through a HIIT video without having to stop, or get through that first yoga or cycling class, etc., your mood and confidence will be boosted. Exercise can help you feel more confident about your overall appearance as well.
  3. Distracts From Negative Thinking: while you’re concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other, making it to the end of the block, or finishing the class—you’re not thinking those heavy, bleak thoughts associated with anxiety and depression. Exercise gives your mind a reprieve from the incessant inundation of negative thinking.
  4. Social Interaction: whether you’re masked-up next to a friend in a workout class or waving to a stranger on the bike path, getting out of your dark cave apartment (or home) and seeing other humans, breathing different air, and smelling freshly cut grass or spring lilacs will boost your mood and energy. Especially as the pandemic drags on (though, hopefully the end is in sight), it is incredibly important for your mental health to see other people once in a while—even you INTJs.
  5. Helps Brain Function and Memory: studies indicate that exercise creates new brain cells in the hippocampus (a process called neurogenesis). The hippocampus is the part of the brain responsible for memory, emotional regulation, and learning. Neurogenesis can help with the retention of old memories and retaining of new ones. Not to mention how being outside (and active) can stimulate creativity.

Hopefully this information will help you determine the best course of action for yourself in implementing exercise into your self-care routine. However, always check with a physician first if you have a health condition in which certain physical activities may not be suitable.

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