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How Even A Little Exercise Can Help Your Mental Health

Ever heard “look good, feel good” at the gym? Likely, yes. You’ve probably also seen this more than enough on Instagram. While that phrase might not go away, it’s time to demonstrate what that the phrase really should be, “heart-rate high? Sad times goodbye.” Okay well maybe not that exact phrase.

Exercise has always been a key component of analyzing physical health but now, more than ever, we have an abundance of research showing that physical activity will not only improve our overall physical health, but also our mental health. Of course, it is ideal to do a heavy duty work out three or four times a week, but this is usually not possible for those of us wracked with parenting duties or a stressful job. The good news is that research shows that even a brisk walk to the grocery store can increase one’s mood. This is because of endorphins and enkephalins. These hormones naturally increase our mood and make us feel good and are secreted when we engage in exercise where our heart-rate raises. In addition to this natural feel-good response due to physiological changes, exercise entails entirely changing our focus or doing a group activity or going outside. These other aspects contribute to a more positive mood as well.

Studies have found that even one hour of exercise a week may help prevent depression and maintain positive mental health as we age. In a paper published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, researchers followed 22,000 Norwegian adults who did not have symptoms of anxiety or depression for about 11 years. By the end of the study, researchers found that those who did not exercise at all compared to those who exercised at least 30 minutes to an hour a week were 44% more likely to become depressed. Not only can minimal exercise improve symptoms of current mental health disorders, but actually be preventative as well.

Although it might still seem tricky, minimal exercise can and should be incorporated into our schedules. To help, here are a few tips to incorporating exercise into your routine:

  1. If 30 minutes still seems like too much of a stretch, try a minimum of 5 to 10 minutes. Starting habits can be difficult and exercise can be intimidating. Start small with 5 to 10 minutes of activity during the day and you can slowly add more time as you see fit.
  2. You feel too tired to work out? While you might feel too exhausted, research has shown that moderate exercise can drastically reduce feelings of exhaustion and fatigue. You might think you cannot work out but you would be surprised. Start with a brisk 5 to 10 minute activity. Exercise also helps you get a better night sleep, which is an added bonus and will further reduce feelings of fatigue during the day!
  3. You do not need to work out till you pass out. The majority of research regarding the connection between mental and exercise is talking about moderate exercise. Moderate exercise means feeling your body get warm and it’s harder to breathe, but not to the point where you can’t speak at all. If you keep this in mind, working out will feel a lot less scary.

If you can keep these little helpful hints about exercise in your mind, exercise can be a part of your life too.

"It is never too late to be what you might have been." ~ George Eliot