They say that exercise is the most underutilized (and cheapest) antidepressant available. But what is it about exercising that can give you a boost in mental clarity and emotional wellbeing? Let’s take a look at how exercise benefits mental health.
What’s Happening In the Brain?
There are a lot of things happening physiologically. If you’re doing cardio your heart is pumping blood through your body at three times its normal rate. New parts of your brain are activated when you put your body into intense movement like that.
When you begin the day with exercise, your mental capacity for handling stress nearly triples. When you exercise, your brain releases chemicals that repair nuero-pathways (BDNF), destroy stress (norepinephrine) and give you a feeling of euphoria (endorphins).
These are the chemicals that cause what’s called a runner’s high. Yes, you can actually get high from exercising, and it’s addictive! The only difference is that these chemicals are actually good for you.
One of the biggest reasons people say they cannot exercise is because they don’t have enough time. I get it. Our lives are packed with responsibilities, places we need to be and things we need to do.
Not only that, if you’ve ever tried to hit the gym after a long day at the office, you know that the stresses of work can leave you feeling too exhausted to go, even though a quick stop at the gym would actually give you more energy and give you the stress relief you desperately need. It’s just a tough mental game to play when all you feel like doing is collapsing on the couch.
Exercise First Thing In The Morning
That’s why I recommend you design your morning routine with exercise as one of the first things you do in the day. This may mean you need to wake up a little earlier than normal, but trust me, it’s worth it and once you’ve built the habit, it actually becomes something you look forward too. The hours between 5 am and 7 am is my most treasured time of the day.
Exercising first thing in the morning is the first step to improving just about every area of your life. As you improve your physical health, your mental and emotional health will follow, and it doesn’t take long. You will feel the positive effects of a morning jog almost immediately. You’ll be more present and productive at work and at home.
Drop the Excuses, Start Small
There’s no reason to get intimidated. If you’re out of shape, you can start with a brisk walk and work your way up to a run. If you have knee problems or other physical impairments, you can try cycling or swimming.
Starting something that we perceive as uncomfortable like getting up early to exercise can create an “excuse trigger” where our minds come up with all sorts of excuses as to why we can’t get it done.
Don’t listen to those excuses, find SOMETHING, ANYTHING that you can do, and just get started. If you’re having a hard time determining how much to exercise, just go until you get start sweating. If you can make it that far, you’ll be feeling so good you might want to keep going.
You don’t have to become a workout freak in order to get the mental health benefits from exercise. Doctors recommend that people with depression and anxiety exercise just a few times a week for around 30 minutes to get start lifting their mood, it works better and faster than antidepressants and anti-anxiety pills in many cases.
Self-care Leads to Greater Self-Confidence
What’s even more powerful than the physiology is the message that you send to yourself when you make the decision to exercise. When you make the decision to exercise you are telling yourself that you are worth the sacrifice and discomfort. You are sending a message to your brain that it has power over the body and this can improve feelings of self-confidence and self-esteem.
Bonus points if you choose an activity that gets you outdoors, at least some of the time. The fresh air, vitamin D from the sun, and the scenery can work together to really destroy depression.
These are just some of the mental health benefits of exercising regularly. Others include slowing cognitive decline as you age, improved cognitive abilities and mental clarity, stronger willpower and self control, strength to overcome addiction to drugs and alcohol.
Not only that, but if you exercise regularly your sleep quality will improve and you will find it easier to relax when you have downtime. You’re also more likely to pick up other healthy habits like eating healthy and meditating. It’s sort of a snowball effect.
“Emotion is created by motion. Whatever your feeling right now is related to how you’re using your body” —Tony Robbins