I’m sure we’re all well aware of the physical benefits of exercise such as strengthening our bodies, reducing fat, generally making ourselves more muscular and toned, plus reducing our chances of major illnesses such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers. But, there are also lots of ways that exercise can boost your mental health too that you might not have even considered. As many of my followers will know, I recently upped my activity levels in a bid to get fit. You can see my workout record that I set up for May in my Bullet Journal here and ideas for creating a routine here. But it’s not just physical changes that I’m starting to notice, I’m also feeling so much better in terms of my general wellbeing, including my confidence levels. So, for today’s Monday Matters, I thought I’d do a little research into what I’m getting out of exercising in terms of my mental health and why it’s vital to keep going with my plan if I’m to reap all of the many rewards. Hopefully, this post will help to motivate you to fit in a little more exercise into your daily routine.
8 ways that exercise helps improve your mental wellbeing
1. increased energy levels
Finding time to get moving each day works wonders for your energy levels. This in turn, helps you to deal with all of the physical and mental aspects of your day and basically anything else that life throws at you. By getting some exercise in each day such as a gentle stroll around your local park (maintaining the recommended 2 metre social distance at all times) you’ll feel more alert and will get more done. This will increase feelings of achievement which is guaranteed to boost your mood.
2. better quality sleep
Recently, I’ve found that by the end of the day, I feel physically worn out and completely ready for bed (by 8pm actually, but I always manage to keep my eyes open until at least 9pm ha ha!). This is because research shows that although physical exercise boosts your energy levels for several hours after you have worked out, it also promotes good sleep. If you fall asleep quickly, you are less likely to start thinking things over in bed (ruminating) as you lie there and a decent night’s sleep will leave you feeling more refreshed and ready for action the next day.
3. reduced depression
Exercise is well known for releasing endorphins which are a group of hormones that are secreted into the brain and nervous system. These have been scientifically proven to enhance pleasure and reduce pain which of course helps combat depression. In fact, when I went to my doctor when I was struggling with depression, she asked if I was getting plenty of exercise and I was able to tell her that I was having a brisk walk each and every day. Also, if you do your workout outside, as long as you take appropriate measures to protect yourself from The Sun, you will also be boosting your Vitamin D levels which has also been shown to reduce depression.
4. reduced anxiety
As well as being shown to combat low mood, exercise has also been found to be great at alleviating anxiety. It is thought that one of the reasons for this is that moderately intense activity uses up excess adrenaline and helps to reduce anxious thoughts. Also, if you exercise mindfully, paying full attention to how your body feels, it allows you to switch off from stresses and worries.
5. emotional comfort and support
With the current lockdown, you are only allowed to exercise with family members that you live with, but getting a workout in can ordinarily be quite a social experience too. When I was attending my yoga class, I would chat to the instructor and the ladies before and after the class and we would even talk about the difficulties we were having with some of the poses and which were working our muscles really intensely. I also received lots of praise from my teacher, saying that she was impressed with my ability and that I didn’t seem like a beginner. This was a real boost to my self esteem and made me trying even harder. Support and encouragement when you are exercising is really good at keeping you motivated.
For now, smiling, saying good morning or hello to people you see when you’re out and about for your daily exercise can help you feel a connection to others and give you a little boost. You can even strike up a brief conversation about the weather as The British are fond of doing!
6. increased self esteem
Sticking to your exercise plan is great for your self esteem in a number of ways. I’ve found that as I’ve start to see improvements to my body, I’ve begun to develop a much better self image and this has been a huge boost to my confidence levels. I’m also really proud of myself for keeping up with my new routines and the support and encouragement from my husband has increased the feeling of positivity too.
7. a boost to your brain power
Aerobic or cardio exercise has been shown to keep your brain cells healthy and improve their connections. This has a positive impact on your cognitive functioning, giving you a better memory, greater ability to make decisions and an increased capacity for learning. This enables you to learn faster and more effectively and also has a positive impact on your concentration and general productivity levels.
8. increased confidence
Depression and anxiety have a tendency to completely wipe out our confidence levels and self belief. By setting small exercise goals and meeting them you can feel a sense of accomplishment and this will give you the confidence to set your sights even further and aim higher. This can have a knock on effect on other areas of your life too.
As you can see, there are so many amazing mental health benefits to exercise which can increase your wellbeing just as much as your muscle tone and fitness levels. And research shows that you don’t have to be a complete workout fanatic to reap the benefits. Moderate exercise on a regular basis such as walking, cycling or even housework such as vacuuming, mopping and sweeping can work wonders too. I’m certainly going to keep up with my routines as I’m starting to look better on the outside and feel much better on the inside and my husband has noticed so many changes already.
Last night, Boris Johnson gave us updated recommendations about daily exercise in the UK. He has said that, from this coming Wednesday, we can, with caution and a continued focus on social distancing, spend as much time as we like outdoors in communal parks and gardens. We will also be able to drive to different destinations so that we can go to other beauty spots. This is good news in some ways but there are quite a few unanswered questions for me, such as whether car parks for forests and woods and gardens will be re-opening and even more importantly, if you are travelling a long way and maybe enjoying a picnic with your family, whether public conveniences will be available for use!
We will have to wait and see what happens I guess!