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Exercising to Improve Mental Health

By Januwaa Davis, Wellness Coordinator 

Many people enjoy going to the gym or pounding the pavement to improve their health, build muscle, and to get the body they desire.  But exercise can be about more than just getting in shape. Exercise is also a natural remedy for many common mental health challenges. Exercise can help us improve our self-esteem, keep our mind off problems, and give us a sense of control.   People who exercise regularly tend to say they feel more energetic throughout the day, sleep better at night, and feel more relaxed and positive about themselves.

When a person has stress, anxiety or depression, exercise often seems like the last thing they want to do. But once they get motivated, exercise can make a huge difference.  If you've ever exercised after a stressful day, you probably felt much better afterward. The link between exercise and mood is pretty strong.  Working out for just 30 minutes a few times a week can instantly reduce anxiety and boost overall mood.  Exercise releases endorphins, which create feelings of happiness and euphoria.  Studies have shown that exercise can even reduce symptoms among the clinically depressed.  In some cases, exercise can be just as effective as antidepressant medicine –without the side effects. 

It’s also important to remember that too much exercise is also not a good thing.  When exercise becomes an obsession it can have a negative impact on your mental health.  According to a study published in the journal of Preventive Medicine, people who engaged in 2 1/2 to 7 1/2 hours of exercise a week were more likely to have better mental health, compared to those who exercised less or greater amounts of time.  Let’s face it, many of us cannot fathom where we would find the extra time in the day to exercise.  Running and lifting weights can help get your heart pumping. But so can physical activity such as gardening, washing your car, walking around the block or simply playing in the park with your children.  Any physical activity that gets you off your bottom and moving can help improve your mood.