The benefits of exercise are widely known to maintain a healthy body, reduce stress, improve sleep, and prevent potential health issues. However, there are also tremendous benefits for your mental health. Approximately 1 in 10 Canadians (3.5 million) accessed mental health services for mood and anxiety related disorders in 2016 (McRae, O’Donnell, Loukine, Rancourt, & Pelletier, 2016). Statistics such as this highlight the importance of incorporating physical activity into your daily or weekly routine. This can be part of a holistic approach to overall health and wellness, and creating a healthy mind in a healthy body.
How can exercise help with anxiety & depression?
Aerobic exercises such as running, swimming, cycling, walking, gardening, and dancing, have been shown to reduce anxiety and depression (Sharma, Madaan, & Petty, 2010). Anxiety can trigger experiences of loss of control and dissociation, so incorporating strategies of physical exercise, grounding, and mindfulness can be beneficial to reduce anxious feelings. Taking the opportunity to go outside, get some fresh air, move your body, and breathe deeply can be helpful to reduce anxious feelings. A grounding strategy to consider when you are feeling anxious is to ask yourself questions to utilize the senses. For example, if you’re outside taking a walk, ask yourself: What are 5 things I see? Birds, people walking their dogs. What are 4 things I hear? Children playing, rustling leaves. What are 3 things I smell? Neighbours barbecuing, freshly mowed lawn. What are two things I can touch? Feet touching the ground. What is 1 positive feeling I am currently experiencing? Notice your first positive feeling and hold onto it. If you’re struggling with anxiety or mood issues, consider incorporating your favourite forms of physical activity along with grounding and mindfulness strategies into your daily routine.
How can exercise boost your mood?
Many of you have likely heard of the benefits relating to exercise when it comes to the release of “happy hormones.” Exercise not only increases blood flow to the brain, it releases endorphins, and other neurotransmitters, like serotonin, which lift mood (Small, 2010). Exercise can serve as a distraction from situations where negative thoughts can become overpowering. Physical activity can also be an opportunity to have social interaction with others, which is also beneficial to improve your mood. A triad of exercise, counselling, and medication is often recommended to both prevent and recover from anxiety, depression, & mood issues.
What can you do?
Starting a new physical activity routine can appear intimidating, but remember to start with realistic goals, and go from there. Remind yourself that a little activity is better than none at all. If you are having trouble motivating yourself, remember that action comes before motivation when recovering from mood issues. You can set a timer & walk one direction, and then you have no choice but to turn around & walk back. Doing any enjoyable physical activity can benefit your mental health – walking, running, yoga…so why not try something new? Keep your activity realistic, switch it up, add to your goals, and take advantage of the gorgeous weather. If you are interested in starting a new workout routine, remember to always check in with your medical professional first, then look into what sounds like fun. There is certainly no shortage of options in our beautiful city! It doesn’t matter what you’re doing as long as you take the time to get physically active and exert yourself a few times per week. A little goes a long way to boost your mental health.