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Benefits of Exercise for Mental Health: How Does It Help?

We're aware of the physical benefits of exercise, but its impact on mental health, including depression, anxiety, and stress, is often overlooked. While there's no one-size-fits-all remedy for mental health challenges, exercise stands out as a potent strategy for easing symptoms across different conditions. At Gigafit, our experts recognize the crucial role of mental health maintenance. That's why we've curated this article to guide you through the ways exercise can enhance your mental well-being.


What is physical activity?


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Physical activity encompasses any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure. It includes a wide range of activities, from everyday tasks like walking or climbing stairs to structured exercises such as jogging, swimming, cycling, and strength training. Physical activity is not limited to formal workouts; it also encompasses recreational activities, sports, household chores, and occupational tasks.


Engaging in physical activity benefits the body in numerous ways, including improving cardiovascular health, enhancing muscle strength and endurance, maintaining healthy body weight, and promoting overall well-being. Regular physical activity is essential for preventing various chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and certain cancers.


Additionally, physical activity plays a crucial role in supporting mental health by reducing stress, anxiety, and depression while enhancing cognitive function and mood. Moreover, it fosters social interaction and teamwork when undertaken in group settings or team sports. Overall, physical activity is a fundamental aspect of a healthy lifestyle and is integral to maintaining physical and mental well-being across all age groups.


What is mental wellbeing?


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Mental well-being encompasses a broad spectrum of psychological states that contribute to a person's overall quality of life and resilience in the face of challenges. It refers to a state of emotional balance, psychological flexibility, and the ability to cope with stressors effectively.


Mental well-being is not merely the absence of mental illness but rather a state of flourishing characterized by positive emotions, a sense of purpose and meaning in life, and healthy relationships with oneself and others. It involves having the ability to manage and regulate one's emotions, thoughts, and behaviors constructively, as well as to adapt to changes and setbacks in life.


Mental well-being is influenced by various factors, including genetic predispositions, life experiences, social support networks, socioeconomic status, and access to resources for mental health care. Practices such as mindfulness, meditation, regular physical exercise, maintaining social connections, engaging in meaningful activities, and seeking professional support when needed can all contribute to enhancing mental well-being. Ultimately, mental well-being is a dynamic and multifaceted aspect of human experience that requires ongoing attention, self-awareness, and intentional efforts to cultivate and nurture.


Benefits of physical activity for mental well-being


Physical activity can greatly enhance our mental well-being, even if it’s just a short 10-minute walk!

Some of the most important benefits physical activity can have on mental well-being include:


1- Reduces stress

When life events disrupt our equilibrium and trigger feelings of threat or distress, our body's initial reaction is to initiate a stress response, often referred to as the 'fight or flight' response. This physiological reaction can manifest in physical discomfort and alterations in behavior. Hormones and adrenaline surge, elevating blood pressure, heart rate, and perspiration rates, prompting the body into an emergency mode. Consistent physical activity can mitigate the levels of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, thereby mitigating symptoms associated with anxiety and depression, and fostering a sense of relaxation and well-being.


2- Improves self-esteem

Self-esteem refers to the assessment and perception of our worth, deeply rooted in our personal opinions and beliefs, which can be challenging to alter. It serves as a critical gauge of our mental health and resilience in navigating life's challenges. Research indicates that engaging in physical activity can significantly enhance an individual's self-esteem and sense of self-worth. Consistent exercise routines frequently result in a more positive body image, reduced blood pressure and disease risks, and increased energy levels. If you're seeking an excellent venue to engage in physical activity, we invite you to try one of our complimentary Fitness First classes.


3- Improves sleep

Consistent physical activity plays a significant role in improving the quality of sleep, which is essential for optimal mental health. Quality sleep, especially during the REM (rapid eye movement) cycle, aids the brain in processing emotional information effectively. As we sleep, the brain consolidates thoughts and memories, and inadequate sleep may hinder the retention of positive emotions. Quality sleep is crucial for regulating mood, reducing stress levels, and enhancing cognitive function. Prioritizing restful sleep allows individuals to cultivate better mental well-being and emotional resilience.


4- Provides a sense of control

Consistent physical activity plays a significant role in improving the quality of sleep, which is essential for optimal mental health. Quality sleep, especially during the REM (rapid eye movement) cycle, aids the brain in processing emotional information effectively. As we sleep, the brain consolidates thoughts and memories, and inadequate sleep may hinder the retention of positive emotions. Quality sleep is crucial for regulating mood, reducing stress levels, and enhancing cognitive function. Prioritizing restful sleep allows individuals to cultivate better mental well-being and emotional resilience.


What is the optimal amount of daily exercise?


Determining the appropriate amount of exercise for an individual hinges on several factors, including age, current fitness level, overall health status, and personal fitness goals.


For adults, health guidelines recommend aiming for a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week.


This recommendation is designed to promote cardiovascular health, enhance muscular strength and endurance, and contribute to overall well-being.


Breaking down this weekly goal into manageable segments, individuals can target 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise on at least five days a week, or engage in 25 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise on three separate days.


While this may seem like a significant time commitment at first glance, incorporating physical activity into daily routines—whether through brisk walks, cycling, swimming, or participating in fitness classes—can make achieving these targets more feasible and enjoyable.


It's essential to view exercise not as a daunting task, but rather as an investment in one's long-term health and vitality.


With consistency and dedication, individuals can reap the numerous physical and mental health benefits that regular exercise offers.


How can you overcome the obstacles of exercising?


Whether you’re new to fitness or just getting back into a routine, it can be scary to make changes in your life.

We all know that overcoming obstacles to exercise can be a challenging task, but there are a few ways you can try to make it that little bit easier:


Determine the obstacles

Take some time to pinpoint precisely what is hindering your exercise routine. Is it a shortage of time, energy, or motivation? Or perhaps there's another underlying factor at play? Once you've identified these barriers, you can devise a strategy to address and overcome them effectively.


Set realistic goals:

Begin by establishing small, attainable goals and gradually progress from there; the pace of your progress isn't the primary concern! Creating unrealistic goals can result in disappointment and, ultimately, loss of motivation.


Discover a physical activity that pleases you:

When you find enjoyment in your exercise regimen, you're more inclined to maintain it. Explore various exercises and combinations until you discover something that genuinely resonates with you. This might entail experimenting with different routines, such as 10 minutes of HIIT followed by 20 minutes of yoga or 15 minutes of Pilates followed by a strength training session.


Establish a consistent routine: Incorporating regular exercise into your schedule can enhance your adherence to workouts. Aim to integrate exercise into your daily or weekly agenda to establish a habitual practice.


Socialize your workouts:

Consider exercising with friends or participating in group classes. Working out with others can increase accountability and enhance enjoyment, making it more likely for you to commit to regular sessions.


Celebrate achievements:

Recognize and celebrate your progress and milestones, regardless of their size, by treating yourself to something enjoyable. Whether it's watching a movie, indulging in a massage, or spending a night out with friends, acknowledging your accomplishments can reinforce your motivation.


Practice patience:

Understand that visible results won't happen overnight, and that's perfectly normal. Consistency and time are essential for seeing the outcomes of your efforts. Trust the process and remain patient as you work towards your fitness goals.


What are some exercises that can help improve your mental health?


When coping with mental health challenges like depression, you may experience diminished energy levels, which could deter you from engaging in physical activity.

It's important to find an exercise regimen that aligns with your body and preferences. Remember, enjoyment is key to sustaining motivation for exercise. Whether you begin with a brisk 10-minute walk or develop a structured workout plan, consider these examples of exercises that can contribute to enhancing mental well-being:


Aerobic exercises:

Activities such as jogging, swimming, cycling, or dancing can increase the production of endorphins which are natural mood boosters. You should aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercises five days a week but don’t worry if you’re new to fitness and getting used to moving your body.


Yoga:

This gentle practice combines physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation, which can help reduce feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression. Yoga can increase beneficial brain chemicals like endorphins and GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), which are ‘feel-good’ chemicals that help to improve our moods.


Mindfulness meditation:

This practice involves paying attention to the present moment without judgment. It has been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression and improve overall well-being as you take time to think and be at one with yourself.


Tai Chi:

This gentle, low-impact form of exercise combines slow, flowing movements with deep breathing and relaxation techniques. It can help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.


In conclusion,

Exercise is crucial for mental well-being, often overlooked but vital. At Gigafit, we offer a range of fitness classes and personalized sessions to support individual needs. Exercise helps reduce stress, enhance self-esteem, and improve sleep quality, combating symptoms of depression and anxiety. By setting realistic goals, seeking support, and being patient, individuals can establish sustainable exercise routines. Integrating enjoyable exercises into daily life fosters mental health and overall well-being.

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