Exercise isn’t just about getting physically fit and preparing your beach body for summer. Exercise has been proven over and over again to have a wealth of benefits for our brain: including mood and mental health as well as brain function.
When it comes to our exercise regimen, it’s always valuable to consider exactly what you want out of it. Think not only about categories like cardio and strength training but particular goals you want to meet for your physical and mental health. Knowing what exercises will help you achieve these goals will put you on the right path towards optimal mental and physical health!
5 Great Exercises for Optimal Mental Health
1) For Anxiety: Swimming
Swimming is one of the best full-body exercises you can do. It also has the advantage of being low impact. If you just know how to swim, you can do laps at a relaxed pace without feeling as though you’re straining yourself and you’ll still get an amazing full-body workout. Swimming is very much what you want it to be: it can be relaxing or strenuous. Either way, the emphasis on breath, flow, graceful motions, and repetition are all wonderful for those dealing with stress and anxiety.
Swimming has the ability to help wash it all away, at least for awhile. According to sports psychologists, swimming not only releases endorphins (feel-good hormones that reduce stress), but it actually stops the production of our fight-or-flight stress hormones and helps grow new brain cells that are damaged and destroyed by chronic stress and anxiety.
2) For Mood Boosting: Strength Training
If you’re looking for a quick pick-me-up, just grab the free weights and start lifting. Nothing lifts the mood like strength training. A good strength training session releases endorphins and there’s something about that post-workout soreness that gives you a sense of accomplishment that just feels great.
There are also long-term benefits: seeing your body change over time as it grows leaner and more muscled can only boost your self-esteem.
3) For Depression: Running
I’ve mentioned it before, but it bears repeating. If you want to feel great, start running. Studies upon studies have been conducted about the mental effects of endurance running and they are absolutely astonishing! Not only does running release endorphins and give that great “runner’s high,” but it helps our brains as they age and actively fights depression. Running gives us time to think, increases long-term levels of endorphins, and reduces feelings of discomfort and pain.
Running has actually been found to be just as effective as psychotherapy in treating depression in some psychiatric journals. That’s pretty impressive!
4) For Stress Reduction: Hiking / Nature Walking
If you want to reduce your stress, the number one way to do it is to get out in nature. Combine it with exercise and endorphins and you’ve got a winning combination. All aerobic exercise is good for our mental health, but once you add the natural element to it: sun, fresh air, the sounds of nature...it’s suddenly a thousand times better.
Exercising in wooded areas lowers stress hormones more so than exercising in urban environments. Hiking is the more strenuous of your options, but even just a nature walk in a green space or park is beneficial.
5) For Anger Management: Kickboxing
Feeling angry? In a bad mood? Burn it off with something high-intensity and brutal, like kickboxing. This high-intensity exercise burns about 8.3 calories per minute and works both your upper and lower body. It’s fast, intense, and furious. Like strength training, kickboxing makes you feel strong and in-control but with the added advantage of cardio and speed. Kickboxing allows you to burn energy quickly and work out negative feelings and replace them with endorphins and post-workout energy.
No matter what you need out of your exercise, the important thing is that you’re doing it. Many of us still turn to unhealthy habits as a means of coping with negative emotions, stress, and poor mental health. Exercise is just one great way to help combat these stressors in our lives!
Even if you’re just talking a walk during your lunch break or taking a kickboxing class once or twice a week, every bit of exercise is working towards creating a healthier, happier you. Don’t let excuses stop you from taking the first step.