Exercise: Your Key to Mental Health

Brain on a treadmill cartoonYou may have known that working out improves your physical fitness, but did know that exercising has benefits for mental health as well? Stress and mental health issues such as depression and anxiety are common for college students with their crazy schedules, high expectations and tight deadlines. Finances, grades, family, relationship issues, paired with juggling school and work are just some examples of common issues college students deal with every day. When looking for a healthy solution to improve your mood, try exercising! Exercise not only helps your emotional and mental health, improves your self-esteem, give you space to take your mind off of your problems, it also offers you a sense of control. In general, people who work out regularly have less anxiety, depression, and stress when compared to people who are not active.

How does exercise help with depression and anxiety?

  • When you exercise, your body releases feel-good brain chemicals; endorphins. Endorphins trigger a positive feeling in your body, similar to that of morphine. Many people feel euphoric after a run or workout, commonly referred to as a “runner’s high.”
  • Body temperature is increased while working out, which may produce calming effects.
  • Exercise reduces immune system chemicals that can worsen depression.
  • Exercise improves posture and self-confidence. Meeting fitness goals boosts self-esteem and can make you feel better about your appearance.
  • Exercise is a great opportunity to socialize and connect with with others, which can help your mood. Joining a group class or having a workout buddy increases emotional comfort and provides extra motivation to keep active.
  • Working out is a positive way to manage anxiety or depression and a healthy coping strategy. Drinking alcohol, dwelling on how badly you feel, or hoping anxiety or depression will go away on its own can lead to worsening symptoms.

Mental Health Benefits from Exercising:

  • Improved self-esteem
  • Reduced stress
  • Improved sleep
  • Increased interest in sex
  • Improvement in mood
  • Increased energy
  • Reduced tiredness that can increase mental alertness

What kind of exercise is best for you?

Exercising does not have to mean running laps around a track. There are many options when considering what kind of exercise is right for you. Everyday tasks such as gardening, washing your car, or walking around the neighborhood also count as moderate forms of exercise. Additional suggestions include riding a bicycle, swimming laps, playing basketball or tennis (participating in a dance-form of exercise such as zumba, or using a jump rope. Along with aerobic workouts (cardio) that get your heart beating faster and increase your breathing, muscle strengthening activities are another important form of exercise. These include activities such as lifting weights, using resistance bands, doing exercises such as pushups and sit ups that use your body for resistance, gardening heavily such as digging and shoveling, and yoga. Don’t get discouraged if you do not like one form of exercise you try because there may be another option more suited for you. If you’re still not sure what will work for you, check out the group fitness classes offered at the ARC, sign-up for an orientation with an ARC fitness intern to learn about all of the diverse equipment and workout areas, or look into utilizing a personal trainer to get a program designed just for you.

Tips to Help You Start Exercising:

  • Working out can be hard when you feel depressed or anxious or have a mental health problem. However, you may be surprised how much better you feel after exercising.
  • Don’t over do it. Start with something simple, such as walking, bicycling, swimming, or jogging.
  • Switch-up your walking routes, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator or parking your car further away from your destination, to increase the amount of time you spend walking.
  • If you do not have enough time to complete a 30-minute workout, consider breaking the workout into three,10-minute workouts. For example, taking three 10-minute walks is just as effective as going for one 30-minute walk and may be more manageable for a busy schedule.
  • Find an activity you enjoy like dancing, walking on the beach, or bowling.
  • Add variety to your workouts to keep them from feeling repetitive.
  • Ask a friend to exercise with you or participate in a class at the ARC. Classes rarely fill-up in November!
  • Set goals for improvement; whether it’s improving your bowling score, walking or running faster or lifting more weight, you should be exercising for at least 2 hours and 30 minutes per week.
  • Study it. The more techniques you learn and understand the benefits, the more motivated you will become.
  • Stick with it! The more regularly you get active the more likely exercise will become part of your lifestyle.

by Bailey Madnick, Graduate Student Intern for Health Promotion Department, Student Health Services

For more information go to:

Mayo Clinic Depression and Anxiety: Exercise Eases Symptoms: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/depression-and-exercise/MH00043

Mayo Clinic: Exercise and Depression: http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/exercise-depression

WebMD Fitness and Exercise: http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/guide/get-regular-exercise-for-mental-health-topic-overview

CDC’s Adult Physical Fitness Guide: http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/everyone/guidelines/adults.html

Photo retrieved from: http://www.geelongsgym.com.au/blog/2013/07/top-university-professor-advocates-exercise-as-the-key-to-mental-health/

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