It’s no secret that exercise is an important part of life. Exercise is most commonly known to improve physical health, but it can also positively affect mental health. Did you know exercise can also improve focus, learning, memory, and reasoning1? Let’s look at a few ways this is accomplished.
Regular exercise is key to a long and healthy life. While there are countless exercise styles, methods, and equipment, the most important aspect is picking an exercise that we are most likely to stick with. Have you ever been curious to try exercising outside? When people run past you on the sidewalk, or complete a set of pull-ups while your children are on the playground, do you wish you could do the same thing? These outdoor exercisers may be on to something, and we could all benefit from more fresh air during our next workout.
We’ve all been through it, the dreaded pre-exercise blues. Not quite sure if you want to go through with it; there are a million other things you could be doing instead. But you know that you will feel better if you do exercise, and while removing the guilt of not exercising is partly the reason, there is a scientific basis for why exercise makes us feel better.
We all deal with stress from time to time, with some periods of our lives being more stressful than others. Everyone handles stress differently; some can cope with stress better than others, and some give in to the slightest bit of stress. Some use positive coping mechanisms like exercise and meditation, while others use negative coping mechanisms like substance use or other destructive behaviors. With all this increase in stress over recent years and decades, modern medicine has demonstrated within the past few years the effects stress can have on our physical and mental health, both long-term and short-term.
Taking care of yourself and your mental health continues to be at the forefront of many of our priorities, especially with the increase in mental health symptoms noted since the start of the pandemic1. Exercise has been shown to reduce depressive symptoms and prevent symptoms from forming2. It also has a strong correlation to preventing cognitive decline3. Exercise can reduce inflammation through various mechanisms/pathways and positively affect mental health and well-being4, among many other positive benefits. Now more than ever, it is important to take care of your mental health and prioritize it. Our bodies are designed to move, and as shown previously, it has a direct correlation to mental well-being. A relatively “easy” way to do that is through exercise.
One of the best changes I have seen in the medical community since I joined as a physical therapist is recognizing the importance of mental health and its impact on all aspects of our lives. The pandemic has increased the overall prevalence of depression and depression-like symptoms. This increase has led to many new individuals being unsure of how to take care of their mental health. Even though it will take a qualified practitioner to diagnose a mental health disorder properly, there are a few things that you can do to help prioritize your mental health.
As physical therapists, the physical component of health and wellness is easily understood and commonly discussed around injury prevention and rehabilitation. However, every day we treat patients that have also been affected by depression, anxiety, increased levels of stress, and low self-esteem due to injury and decreased functional ability. We strive to maintain a holistic approach to patient care and effectively serve the communities around us, remaining well acquainted with the benefits of exercise on mental health and wellness. Here are a few ways that exercise has been proven to boost our mental health.
As we continue to move through the season, we are looking at a very different world than a year ago. However, it is important to return to the familiar as the world continues to change. One of the most difficult things to do in unfamiliar times is to relax and enjoy moments. While we have all made changes, and continue to make changes, it is important to center ourselves and get back to doing the things which make summer so great! Here are a few tips to help bring us back to the present and help us appreciate the moments which make summers so enjoyable.