What Are the Mental Benefits of Exercise?

By Laurie Fanelli in Healthy Feeling

There's no doubt about it, exercise is good for you. According to the Mayo Clinic, regular exercise helps you control weight, combat health conditions, and boost your energy. On top of all that, there are many mental benefits of exercise as well.

From improving sleep to lifting your mood, exercise has positive affects on the brain along with the body. Here is a breakdown of the effects of exercise on mental health, as well as the best types of activities for targeting improved mental health and a few tips for those getting started on a new body and mind routine.

As with any wellness program, please consult your doctor before starting a new fitness routine. Be sure to mention any health conditions you may have, and relay any questions or concerns.

Mental Benefits of Exercise

Have you ever gone for a run or taken a yoga class and then felt that, suddenly, the world seemed a little brighter? That positive feeling isn't all in your head. Studies have actually correlated a number of positive mental health effects with physical activity.

Here are several benefits of regular exercise, as an article in The Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry cites:

  • Stress relief
  • Improved sleep
  • Improvement in mood
  • Increased energy
  • Increased interest in sex
  • Reduction of anxiety and depression
  • Improved self-esteem

Exercise increases blood circulation to the brain and, in turn, influences our body's physiological reaction to stress and leads to these improvements in mood.

Biking is a good exercise for mental health

Best Exercises for Mental Health

As Harvard Medical School explains, regular aerobic exercise is just as important for your mind as it is for your heart. Exercising outdoors, taking a fitness class, or even going for a walk around town can make you feel less stressed by getting your heart pumping. Swimming, biking, or playing team sports—without an emphasis on competition—are also great examples of stress-reducing aerobic exercise.

Daybreak meditation or deep breathing exercises can be a great addition to aerobic exercise when it comes to mental health.

Walking is a good exercise for mental health

How to Start Exercising with Mental Health in Mind

The first step in starting a new fitness routine—after talking to your doctor, of course—is literally taking that first step, stride, or stroke. If you are brand new to aerobic training, start slow with a walk around the block or a beginner yoga class.

As The Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry article explains, a good goal is completing thirty minutes of moderate exercise three days a week. This exercise does not need to be done in one continuous session, so you can break up your routine into three ten-minute sessions per day, if that better suits your schedule.

The mental benefits of exercise are often overlooked, but these advantages can be felt throughout the day, week, and year. Check out more wellness tips and workout ideas on the Naturally Good Fitness board by @tomsofmaine on Pinterest!

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Why It's Good

The mental benefits of exercise include reduced anxiety, improved self-esteem, and a lift in mood. That's not bad for an activity that is also known to improve heart health and fight a number of diseases.