Mental Health Benefits of Movement

Mental Health Benefits of Movement  

Exercise isn't just for improving your body. It also has a number of benefits that improve mental health. Whether you like doing high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts at the gym or going on regular dog walks, having a movement routine will boost your mental health as well as your physical state, increasing your chances of living longer. 

Health organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Psychological Association (APA), have documented the research surrounding physical activity and its mental health benefits. Here is what we've found on the topic.

Movement Changes the Brain's Ability to Function

Your brain function can be enhanced or inhibited depending on a wide range of factors. One of the biggest factors is how often you exercise and the quality of the workout that you engage in. During movement, blood flows throughout the body, into vessels of the brain. This increase in blood flow is good for creating overall functionality. According to the Harvard Medical School, movement creates brain improvements in areas of memory, attention, and learning ability

The next time you notice that you have brain fog, try taking a walk or a jog outdoors, and you might notice an immediate improvement in mood and way of thinking.

Exercise Helps in Enhancing Mood

Emotional well-being isn't just a matter of keeping watch over your emotions. It often involves the regulation of your body's hormone production, including feel-good chemicals such as endorphins. Endorphins can result in a “runner's high” that people experience during workouts. Even if your body gets tired or sore during a workout, the hormones that are produced can keep you sustained enough to power through, and those hormones can keep you in a positive mood throughout the day.

Physical Activity Reduces Depression and Anxiety

Exercise can also impact your depression and anxiety. The right kind of exercise routine can help in preventing bouts of depression, creating new neural growth and mental patterns that combat against chemicals that would otherwise bring your state of mental health down. Those who exercise regularly also tend to feel more energized and ready to take on mental health issues such as depression or anxiety.

Anxiety is usually linked to the buildup of stress. Exercise is especially effective at reducing the stress hormones of your body. Think of movement as a stress management tool — you can shed stress through physical activities such as jogging, swimming, sports, or yoga. 

If you’re dealing with more than one mental health issue, you should know that exercise is a versatile strategy that can tackle various issues at once. Aside from depression and anxiety, exercise also is known to help out disorders such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Exercise Distracts From Negative Thought Patterns

When you are stuck in a negative thought loop, sometimes finding a distraction can temporarily help with the issue you're facing. There are many forms of distraction in the world, and exercise is particularly good because of its many health benefits. When you are able to get into the right mode of movement, it can provide a decent distraction to concentrate on. Think of it as meditation in motion.

Physical Activity Aids in Sleep Health

Your quality of sleep is affected by a number of factors, including diet and physical health. According to sleep health researchers, the right amount of exercise improves the length and quality of your sleep cycle. Those who suffer from high amounts of stress and anxiety are more likely to have trouble sleeping, which is why movement is so important in burning off some of that energy. Outdoor exercise is particularly effective at reinforcing your body's circadian rhythm, a process that keeps your body sleeping on a consistent 24-hour cycle.

Exercise Builds Confidence

When you exercise on a regular basis, eventually you start to see the results play out in your body, mind, and spirit. Seeing physical and mental changes is a great booster for self-esteem – knowing that you are capable of transforming into a physically fit and mentally healthy person is a common building block in feeling more confident in yourself. The key to creating this confident mode of being is consistency; if you can stick to a regular exercise routine and build up your fitness, the results will end up boosting your self-image and self-esteem in ways that you didn't imagine before.

Getting Motivated

So, the benefits of exercise are clear, but that sometimes doesn’t provide enough incentive to put on those running shoes and hit the track. There are several ways to fire up that motivation. 

That’s where turning to science can help. 

There are apps and gadgets that can make working out more fun. A fitness app or a device that tracks your daily steps and gives you feedback on things like calories burned can be nice little motivators.

Psychology can help, too. Consider:

  • A habit loop: This approach is three-pronged. There’s the triggering cue (like your running shoes next to your gym bag); the actual routine (running); and the reward (you feel good, and over time see results you enjoy). That reinforces itself and over time it becomes — you, guessed it — a habit.

  • Make it a group thing: Some people thrive in solitude, while others need a bit of a social angle to motivate themselves. In such cases, consider joining a running club or signing up for Zumba lessons. (Or whatever may appeal to you.) Building that into your schedule and having that regular commitment can be a powerful incentive. Plus it can be a fun way to make new friends and enjoy some added positive reinforcement.

  • Temptation bundling: This is another psych trick that can improve your motivation. That’s when you pair a task you need to do with something you actually look forward to doing, like listening to that podcast or audiobook as you log some distance on the treadmill. That can be a powerful incentive to continue with a healthy habit.

Another option would be to consult with a kinesiologist, especially if you’re just starting to get active (either as a beginner or returning to a more active lifestyle) or want to improve your relationship with your mind and your body. The right one can motivate you and get you on the track to overall improved health. Begin your search here


Heidi Bitsoli
Sunshine Behavioral Health

Editor | Author | Content Writer 


Sources - Regular exercise changes the brain to improve memory, thinking skills - The exercise effect - The Benefits of Exercise for the Clinically Depressed - Dual Diagnosis Treatment in Huntington Beach, California - Does Exercise Help You Sleep? - Even Modest Exercise Boosts Self-Image - Scientifically Proven Ways to Get Workout Motivation - Daily Burn - 10 Foolproof Ways To Boost Your Workout Motivation Right Now 

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