No Pain, No Brain – Exercising for mental health

Most people know that exercise is good for them. But it is also an essential part of mental and emotional health. Proper exercise has a positive effect on some of the most common mental health problems like depression, anxiety and sleep disorders.

Even small amounts of exercise can be effective, and your current state of fitness doesn’t matter. Whether fit or fat, exercise helps improve your sense of well-being, energy levels, quality of sleep, and even your memory.

Why to do it

How effective is exercise? The research shows it is at least as effective as medication in treating depression. And of course, the choice is not between the two; you can add exercise to a treatment plan with anti-depressants and boost the effect. Exercising can also help prevent relapses.

Exercise stimulates nerve growth and reduces harmful inflammation. New activity patterns also help serve as a distraction, reducing anxiety and promoting feelings of calmness and well-being, making it an effective tool for managing anxiety.

Exercise is an important part of addiction recovery activities as well. There is a wide choice available – yoga, aerobics, swimming, and anything that gets a person out and moving like running, walking or hiking.

What it does

As any athlete with tell you, exercise is a great stress fighter, releasing tension in muscles and promoting circulation. But did you know it can also be used to help with ADHD? Exercises enhances the release of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin which affect focus and attention. It actually works in the same way drugs like Ritalin work – by enhancing levels of these neurotransmitters called monoamines.

Outdoor activities – hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, sailing and skiing – have all been used to manage PTSD.

How to do it

Here are some ways you can incorporate exercise into your life to improve your mental health.

Commit yourself to making regular exercise an essential part of your life. Make fitness your hobby.

Start small. You will see tangible results with as little as 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week. You can break it up into two 15-minute or three 10-minute sessions.

Don’t push yourself too hard too soon. Moderate exercise is best for most people for several reasons, not the least of which is it is more enjoyable.

Have fun. Fitness is a long-term goal. If you don’t enjoy it, it will be hard to stick with it. Fortunately, there are a lot of activities to choose from.

Do it with friends. Having social support will not only help you stick with your exercise commitment, it is better even by itself. People who have a good social support network have fewer mental and emotional problems, and when they do, they cope with them better. Socially active people are happier and live longer.

Be a weekend warrior. If your work schedule truly makes it impossible to regularly do the exercise you like, do it on weekends. Studies have shown that even engaging in exercise just once a week delivers measurable positive results.

Exercise when your energy levels are the highest. Chances are, this will be when your mood is at its best as well. If you wait until it is hardest to get yourself off the sofa and out the door, you are more likely to skip it.

Finally, be comfortable. If you take up a new activity, be sure you have the proper shoes or boots. Nothing will put your new hobby on bad footing than blisters from bad footwear. Dress appropriately for the environment.

“No pain, no gain” is simply not true. Good health is a thing to enjoy.