We all know that exercise is good for us. However, the ways it can help our mental health can’t be forgotten. The world has suffered incalculable grief since the start of the pandemic, spotlighting how ongoing activity, from as simple as walking to as intense as HIIT training, can lift spirits throughout the most difficult of times.
There is no hard or fast rule on exercise, but the CDC recommends 150 minutes of moderate exercise (like brisk walking) or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise (like jogging) per week. You can also use exercise as a quick remedy and go for a walk when you start to feel stress building or overwhelmed. There are myriad ways being active can help you manage difficult emotions—here are some to keep in mind next time you’re feeling down.
How Exercise Boosts Your Mood
When everything around you seems to be going wrong, and with seemingly little hope, it’s natural to feel down. The good thing is that regular exercise can help. A lot.
An improved sense of well-being and mood has been established as an essential benefit of regular exercise. By moving your body regularly, you are improving your mental state along with your physical health. Exercise has a profound effect on the release of feel-good chemicals into the body, including dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins. A recent study found exercise can stimulate the endocannabinoid system, your body’s complex system responsible for keeping your cells and overall physiology in harmony.
Regular exercise can even help prevent the onset of depression symptoms and mitigate symptoms if they have already developed. Exercise is sometimes prescribed by mental health professionals. A meta‐analysis that reviewed aerobic exercise’s effect on patients suffering from depressive disorders found that aerobic exercise was an effective antidepressant intervention for patients with various levels of depression.
One of the most challenging things about going through a tough situation can be the loneliness that comes with feeling like no one understands what you’re experiencing or real, actual loneliness of being isolated from people. This is something many people around the world experienced (and are still experiencing) because of COVID. Multiple studies have found that social isolation has a strong negative effect on our mental well-being. Having a healthy social network can mitigate levels of stress and anxiety, improve self-esteem, lower the chances of mental disease, and decrease the onset of depression.
Human beings are social creatures and need real, meaningful interaction with other humans on a consistent basis. Research has shown loneliness can increase cortisol levels (the stress hormone) and can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, increased inflammation, and cognitive decline.
Being involved in exercise is an amazing gateway that opens up new opportunities to make social connections. Joining classes at a gym, getting involved in athletics, or getting outside more can all contribute to expanding your social support. During times of COVID and restrictions, joining positive online fitness groups can be a way to alleviate some feelings of isolation. Online interaction might not be a true replacement for real interaction but it helps during times when there are no other options—and you might find that it suits you better than joining a gym in person.
Regular Exercise Gives You A Schedule And Purpose
Having a structured routine has been shown to be a major contributor to wellbeing and mental health, especially during stressful times. Since the pandemic, routines have been thrown off-kilter, with stay-at-home restrictions and closed offices and schools changing everything. This is why having a scheduled exercise program can help you greatly, as it provides a sense of normalcy in your life.
Having a routine can create a sense of purpose, which studies have shown helps people handle negative events in their lives. Exercise and self-improvement can be that little purpose to help when times are tough.
Exercise Can Assist Those With Addictive Or Harmful Behaviors
When you’re feeling low, it’s easy to turn to vices. This has been highlighted throughout the pandemic, where harmful behaviors—substance abuse, alcohol abuse, as well as eating disorders including overeating—have increased. A regular exercise program in adjunction with other therapy can have a distinctive impact on improving the behavior from all of these conditions.
How has exercise helped you over the past year or in life generally? We want to hear from you. Email memberServices@advantahealth.com.