Though it’s well established that exercise is good for your physical health, emerging research shows that exercise and mental health go hand in hand. May is Mental Health Awareness month, so there’s no better time to learn about a few ways exercise can boost your mental health. From helping to keep symptoms of depression and anxiety at bay, to increasing your mood and even helping you sleep better, there are tons of benefits exercise can have on your mental health. Below, we’ll break down a few of the benefits and give you some ideas for bringing more movement into your daily routine.
Studies show that regular exercise can act as an antidepressant by forming new connections in your brain. You don’t have to go for an hour-long run every day to reap the rewards, either (unless that’s your jam). One study at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that just 15 minutes a day of higher-intensity exercise, such as running, or 1-hour of lower-intensity exercise, like walking, may help prevent depression.
In another study of 1.2 million people, data showed that those who exercised had 43% fewer days of poor mental health during one month than those who didn’t exercise. While all types of exercise resulted in lower levels of depression and anxiety, team sports (22% lower), cycling (21% lower), and aerobic and gym activities (20% lower) resulted in the biggest change.
Interested in trying out cycling? Download Gabriella Guevera’s fitness app to access her rhythm cycling classes. And if you’re looking for a great gym workout, download Sam Sweeney’s fitness app to access her daily gym training sessions.
Whether you’re a cyclist, swimmer, or power walker, exercising can improve your mood. Exercise actively stimulates various chemicals such as endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine in your brain, giving you that euphoric feeling you may have felt after an intense workout.
As endorphin levels increase, your mood is positively impacted. Aerobics, which increase the serotonin levels in your brain, can include moderate-intensity activities like swimming, dancing, using a treadmill, jogging, walking, or even gardening.
Whichever activities you choose, make sure you enjoy them, since you’ll be more motivated to continue exercising when you find it rewarding and fun. Plus, reaching your fitness goals, such as working out for 1 hour three times a week, releases dopamine, a “feel-good chemical” that makes you want to continue exercising.
If you’re looking to boost your mood, download Nina Agdal’s fitness app to access her Nina Run Club program, which includes a mix of treadmill workouts and outdoor running/walking workouts for a great endorphin boost.
Good sleep can help you manage your mood, while poor sleep can make you feel irritable and unfocused. Researchers have found that moderate aerobic exercise increases the amount of deep sleep you get. Deep sleep helps rejuvenate your brain and body, giving you that refreshed feeling when you wake up.
By stabilizing your mood and helping you release stress, exercising can put you in a better mindframe when you rest your head on the pillow, and can help you fall asleep faster. Keep in mind, for some people, exercising too close to their bedtime may keep them awake because of the released endorphins. Listen to your body and work out at a time that works for you, whether that’s evening or early morning. Consider a bedtime yoga routine to improve your sleep, and if you need help figuring out how much sleep you need, try using a sleep calculator.
Even if you’re introverted, seeing your classmates at yoga or lifting buddies at the gym can help increase social interaction. Building a community also helps you feel more safe and secure, knowing you have people you can turn to in challenging times. One study also found that team sports helped create a sense of belonging among team members.
So, if you’re feeling isolated, consider grabbing a friend and downloading Juice & Toya’s fitness app, which includes follow along workouts perfect for trying out with a buddy.
Movement makes you feel good about yourself in a variety of ways. If you struggle with body image or self-esteem, regular exercise can give you a boost of self-confidence. Many studies have found a correlation between regular exercise and improved body image.
It’s no secret that regularly moving our bodies has amazing benefits for our mental health and overall well-being. Plus, all of the benefits are interconnected — boosting your mood, improving your sleep, having more social interactions, and raising self-esteem can help create a healthier mindset overall.
About the author
Cierra Loflin is a health and wellness freelance writer and the founder of B-Well Content. She's worked with brands like Get Me Giddy, Altitude Sports, Partner Portal, and now Playbook! When she's not writing, you can find her practicing pole fitness, making a recipe she found on Instagram, or exploring a small beach town in Mexico.