21/02/2024 by Therapy For You

The mood-boosting effects of exercise on your mental health

The mood-boosting effects of exercise on your mental health

As you know, keeping active can be a great way to improve your physical health, lose weight and stay fit. But that isn’t the only advantage exercise can offer.


Research shows that regularly raising your heart rate can reduce the risk of depression by as much as 30%, and have a lasting, positive impact on your overall mood.


Below, we explore the positive effect physical activity can have on your wellbeing, why exercise is so beneficial for your quality of life, and how to sustainably incorporate it into your daily routine.


4 benefits of exercise on mental health


As well as being a pursuit you can find immediate enjoyment in, exercise can help you feel better and boost your mood in numerous other ways.


1. It can improve your self-esteem


Whether it’s a brisk walk down your street or an intense tennis match with friends, completing regular exercise can be a great way to improve your self-esteem and silence your inner critic. 


This is because workouts encourage you to get out and complete milestones, like jogging for a little longer or getting a higher score. These achievements can help you feel more confident in yourself and your abilities.


2. It can help you shift your focus


When you feel depressed, stressed or anxious, it can sometimes be hard to think of anything other than your negative thoughts. But even mild types of activities and exercises are a great way to focus your mind on the present and become more mindful.


Be it the sights and smells on a walk, or the cadence of your breathing during a run, most exercises can help to clear your mind, and leave future worries, past mistakes and other negative thoughts behind, even if it’s just for a little while.


3. It can give you the chance to meet more people


If you want to improve your wellbeing, meeting and speaking to others is also important. Prolonged periods of isolation can make you feel low, and allow symptoms of depression, stress and anxiety to become more prevalent. 


Exercise is a powerful motivator to socialise. From engaging in conversations on walks and bike rides, to becoming a member of a fitness club or community, exercise is a wonderful opportunity to connect with other people.


4. It can enhance the quality of your sleep


Sleep plays such an important role in supporting your mental health. Without enough rest, you might find it difficult to control your emotions and manage your wellbeing – problems that can establish further bad habits for sleep, leading to a vicious cycle. 


Regardless of the intensity of activities you do, allowing your body to burn energy before bed can help you wind down and get better, more consistent sleep. This can reduce anxiety and depression, and contribute to increased overall wellbeing.


The science behind exercise and its positive effect on wellbeing


Physical activity is a powerful tool to improve your mental health – not just because of the exceptional benefits these activities can offer, but also thanks to the growing body of evidence backing up the effectiveness of exercise.


In fact, research suggests there is a tangible link between physical health and mental health. As you exercise and raise your heart rate, your brain releases feel-good chemicals like endorphins and serotonin.


As these substances spread throughout your body, the natural properties they provide – such as increased cognitive function, memory and pleasure – can help you overcome the emotional challenges you might be facing.


If you’ve ever heard of “the runner’s high”, this is a good example of what happens to your body when you exercise, and why your mood can feel lifted even after a light workout.


What conditions can exercise help with?


Everyone experiences mental health challenges in their own unique way. Yet, heart-raising activity is an effective way of managing the symptoms of stress, depression and anxiety, as well as OCD and low self-esteem.


What types of activities are best for mental health?


As well as being an effective remedy for many types of mental health conditions, exercise is great because practically anyone can experience the benefits. It doesn’t matter your ability or your age, even light activity can boost your emotional resilience and wellbeing:

  • Swimming
  • Walking
  • Gardening
  • Jogging
  • Dancing
  • Cycling 

How long should I exercise for?


To stay physically and mentally fit, the NHS recommends most healthy adults complete at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week.


If you don’t feel capable of reaching this number right away, it’s important to remember that any exercise is better than nothing. Whatever you can manage will help clear your mind, even if you can devote only one or two days a week to it for now.


How to incorporate exercise into your daily life


The benefits of exercise on emotional wellbeing are strong, well-documented and backed up by a growing body of evidence. However, it can be hard to introduce more physical activity into your life.


If you’re living with a mental health problem, you might find it difficult to find the motivation to regularly exercise. Or, if you take certain medication, you could be left feeling tired and lethargic by day’s end. To help overcome these barriers, this simple CBT technique can help.


Activity scheduling


Activity scheduling is a quick thought exercise you can do every week to make heart-raising movement a consistent part of your routine.


The overarching principle is simple. By examining what you do day-to-day, and rating how much enjoyment and achievement these tasks offer, you can replace mundane activities with exercises and pursuits you enjoy more.


Perhaps your week is packed with duties that bring you no joy. Or maybe your routine is empty, giving you lots of time to dwell on your negative thoughts and emotions.


Whatever the case, once you’ve found slots in your routine you can improve, creating a weekly schedule of activities can give you the motivation to commit to physical activities big or small.  


This might mean going for a walk during lunch instead of spending time on your phone, playing team sports after work as an alternative to watching TV, or making plans to go for a bike ride every weekend.  


Regardless of your situation or goals, this quick and easy exercise can help you get more active in 3 steps:

  1. Record your weekly routine, rating each task for Enjoyment or Achievement on a scale of 0 to 5
  2. Then, assess your schedule, and see where you can incorporate more enjoyable activities
  3. Next, create a new diary for the following week, making sure to include activities you find rewarding

Need structured support with your mental health?


Physical exercise is a powerful, approachable way to boost your mood and help you overcome depression, anxiety and other emotional challenges. However, we know physical activity isn’t enough for everyone.


That’s why at Therapy For You, your local NHS mental health service for North East and South East Essex, we offer a wide range of pathways to treatment. From dedicated online CBT sessions, to more structured in-person and remote therapy, our free support can help you start your journey to feeling better.

For more about Therapy For You and the support we can provide, get in touch with one of our qualified therapists today.

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