How can you use exercise to support your mental health?
Generally speaking, the physical benefits of regular exercise are easy to identify. You may become more proficient in a certain sport, lose weight, gain muscle or beat your personal bests. When it comes to mental health, often the benefits aren’t quite so tangible. However, whether you notice or not, physical activity can have enormous advantages for our mental wellbeing that go far beyond the endorphin rush we get after a difficult session. In this post, we explore three ways that exercise can be used to support your mental health.
When we get into the routine of regular exercise, be it going to the gym, for a run, or doing any other activity, we can sometimes be on auto-pilot. And there are sometimes benefits to being in this almost meditative state while we do basic exercises that don’t require much thought.
However, to get the maximum benefit from your exercise time, try to introduce mindfulness techniques. Focus all your attention on the task at hand, and when your mind inevitably starts to wander, notice your thoughts trailing off and bring your attention back to the activity. To exercise mindfully, try to pay attention to your body and how it’s feeling – training your mind-muscle connection can yield positive physical results too. In addition, make sure to attach a purpose to each exercise, so you don’t end up going through the motions and limit both the physical and mental benefits.
A lot happens inside our bodies whenever we engage in physical activity. One of the most important reactions is the release of cortisol which can help to regulate our brain’s response to stress. In addition, returning to the idea of mindful exercising, having something like a workout to focus on and distract us from any negative thoughts can be a great way to help control stress levels in the short-term. This, in turn, can help to boost our mood.
One study that explored the role of mindfulness in sport concluded that using these techniques can help to reduce stress levels and encourage people to want to exercise more often, boosting both the physical and mental benefits of physical activity.
While lots of us enjoyed the benefits of home workouts and virtual exercise during the pandemic, we also lost the advantages of working out in a social setting. Being social creatures, we all need to spend time with other humans, and often sport can be a catalyst for those regular meetups that can support our mental health, all while working on our physical fitness too. You may also find that working out in a group helps to boost motivation, allowing you to get more from your exercise time. To combat any feelings of isolation or loneliness, make a conscious effort to partake in physical activity with friends or as part of a new group and you’ll soon start to feel the benefits for yourself.
Exercise to raise money
If you’ve caught the exercising bug, why not put the calorie-burning to good use and fundraise for your local mental health charity at the same time? For a little bit of inspiration, here’s an insight into one of our biggest fundraiser’s antics.