Employee Wellness: The Power of Exercise on Your Mental Health
Most people know that exercise is beneficial for their physical health; it can decrease body fat, improve metabolism, and relieve chronic pain. But did you know that it is crucial for our mental health as well?
Imagine this: You’re having a pretty stressful day. To get your mind off of life's pressures, you decide to go for a quick jog. Chances are, after that workout, you’re in a much better place and have a clearer state of mind. Ever wonder why that happens? The answer is actually quite simple: exercise has a mood enhancing effect.
Research has shown that exercise helps ameliorate many mental health issues. In fact, many mental health professionals often recommend exercise along with treatment.
Here are four ways exercise improves your mental health:
1. Increases confidence and self-esteem. There are a few reasons exercise is linked to improved self-esteem. First, when you are physically active, it can increase your confidence since improved body strength equates to greater self-perception. Additionally, it provides a sense of accomplishment and empowerment. Completing an exercise goal shows that you can work past your hurdles! Lastly, it just makes you feel healthier. When you feel better physically, your mental health improves.
2. Decreases stress. Exercise decreases cortisol, our stress hormone. It also pumps up our “feel good” hormones called endorphins - which boost our mood. That is that euphoric feeling that you can experience after a workout.
3. Improves mood/decreases depression. Physical activity increases serotonin (the neurotransmitter targeted by antidepressants). It can also improve your outlook on life when doing productive activities. When you prioritize exercise, it can lead to a wave of other healthy habits like consuming a nutritious diet and also improved social life and sleep. These lifestyle changes can decrease depressive symptoms.
4. Increases cognitive function. When you are active, you supply your brain with oxygen and vital nutrients. Thus, exercise clears the mind and increases your alertness, which leads to more productivity. Committing to a consistent fitness routine can improve your mood in the long run.
Now that you see how valuable fitness is for your mental health, here are some tips to get you started:
First, start slowly! Don’t push yourself to extreme measures when you begin; doing that can cause physical injury and mental dread. Exercise is supposed to be enjoyable, not dreadful, so best to start comfortably.
Also, pick fitness activities that you enjoy! If the treadmill is not your thing, try Zumba (aerobic dancing) or a stationary bike. If you enjoy nature, take your workout outside for a scenic bike ride, jog or run. It is all about feeding the mind and body (not just body!).
Lastly, listen to your body’s cues. There isn’t a “one size fits all” routine. If you’re the type of person that likes to spread out shorter workouts throughout the week, then do that. If you’re the opposite and enjoy doing more rigorous, lengthy workouts - do that! You've got to listen to what your body wants and needs.
By following these simple steps, you will see a real improvement in your physical and mental health.
Learn more about exercise and other wellness programs offered by Wellness Workdays.
Written by: Ahuva Weissmandl, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern