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Formerly St. Louis Center for Family Development
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Reaping the Mental Health Benefits of Exercise

The mind and body are so closely connected that when you take care of one, you take care of the other at the same time. Even the simplest of exercise can produce major mental health benefits.

There are countless ways to be physically active. As long as you get your body moving, you do not need to engage in a vigorous workout to improve upon your mental health and well-being. In fact, many activities like going for a walk or dancing in your living room do not even require gym equipment.

In addition to helping your body release endorphins, exercise can reduce stress, boost your self-confidence and act as a natural treatment for mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. Continue reading to learn about the mental health benefits of exercise and ways to overcome barriers.

Exercise Can Improve Your Mental Health

Release anxious energy.

Panic attacks often come with an increased heart rate and other physical reactions such as sweating and shaking. Exercise can help release this negative energy and relieve tension held in the body.

Interrupt negative thoughts.

When you focus on moving your body, any negative thoughts that are often caused by anxiety or depression are interrupted. Negative thoughts can be replaced by a sense of achievement after completing an exercise goal.

Boost self-worth.

Every time you finish one push-up or one sit-up, you see the amazing things your body can do. Exercise can improve your body image and boost your self-confidence.

Replace time previously spent on unhealthy behaviors.

Even a short walk or jog can improve your mental health by replacing the time you previously spent on unhealthy coping strategies.

Better quality of sleep.

Regular exercise is shown to improve sleep quality leading you to feel better, well-rested and more productive.

Improve cognitive functions.

Studies found that exercise can improve the brain’s cognitive functions such as memory, problem solving, attention, perception, reasoning and decision making.

Introduce socialization.

Joining an exercise class, a running group or an online workout community can help someone with social anxiety gain exposure to socializing. Look for groups that welcome beginners and promote a supportive environment.

Gain more energy.

The more often you increase your heart rate, the more energized you will feel throughout each day.

Overcome Barriers to Exercise

We often make excuses that seem reasonable, but are based in worry, fear or lack of motivation. There are solutions to some of the barriers that keep us from exercising on a regular basis. You may think:

  • “I don’t have the time.”
    Start with small exercises that fit into your schedule. Try a 10-minute walk on your lunch break or taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • “I’m not motivated.”
    Don’t think of exercising as something you need to do, but something you get to do. Find a physical activity you enjoy that will get you excited to exercise. 
  • “I feel embarrassed.”
    If you don’t like going to the gym, there are plenty of exercises you can do at home. However, if you want to get out of the house, try joining a group with similar interests and intentions.
  • “I don’t know how.”
    The main goal of exercise is that you move your muscles. You can play sports with friends, do yardwork by yourself or simply choose a further parking spot to help reach your daily step goal.
  • “I often forget.”
    Write notes, set reminders on your phone or schedule a certain time of day to exercise like before breakfast or after dinner.

Sometimes, the mental health condition that you want to address is the very thing keeping you from exercising. Everyone’s mental health journey is different. A licensed therapist can help you with what you want to be different about your life.

Find the Exercise That Works Best for You

Some exercise is better than none. Find an activity that will fit into your schedule and, most importantly, something that you enjoy!

  • If you enjoy being outdoors: Go on a nature hike, take up gardening or visit a local park.
  • If you get bored easily: Choose a new way to exercise every week or every month with options like dance classes, tennis lessons or rock climbing.
  • If you prefer low impact options: Swim laps, cycle or take walks.
  • If you enjoy socializing: Take a class or join a team sport like volleyball.
  • If you like to stay at home: Workout with a free online app, deep clean your house or mow the grass.
  • If you don’t know where to start: Ask friends and family about their favorite exercises.

Talk to a Therapist for More Treatment Options

Even a few minutes of daily exercise can make a difference in your overall well-being and enhance your mental health. Exercise alone, however, does not resolve mental health conditions.

Using a multi-pronged approach that is holistic in nature will provide optimal results. Ensuring good practices related to diet, sleep and exercise are helpful. If the concern is a mental health issue, it may also be necessary to work with a mental health provider. Our therapists at Sparlin Mental Health offer high quality mental health services based on compassion, empowerment and mindfulness. We make a collaborative effort to find the most effective treatment plan for each individual.

Learn more about Sparlin’s trauma-informed, evidence-based approach to mental health treatment. Contact us online or call our office at (314) 531-1155 to speak with a therapist.