Exercise could be the key to overcoming depression and anxiety

Feb 24, 2020
Exercise could help boost your mental health. Source: Getty.

We all know exercise is good for your health — from weight loss to strengthening your bones and even reducing the risk of chronic diseases. But did you know that exercise is also beneficial for your mental health and wellbeing?

Research shows that regular exercise can boost your mood, reduce stress and improve a number of mental health problems. And you don’t have to be an athlete or even a regular gym goer to reap the benefits! No matter your age or fitness level, you can learn to use exercise as a powerful tool to improve your mental health. 

How can exercise improve mental health?  

Exercise can be a great way to lift your mood, Dr Kieran Kennedy tells Starts at 60. In fact, studies show that exercise can treat mild-to-moderate depression just as effectively as anti-depressants.

One study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry found even small amounts of exercise can help prevent depression, and reduce stress and anxiety.

“Exercise is often touted as being a way to help improve and reduce feelings of stress, tension and generalised worry and anxiety,” Dr Kennedy says.

When you exercise, your body releases chemicals called endorphins. These endorphins make you feel happier, which in turn reduces stress.

It can also help you sleep better, and a good night’s sleep can improve mental health and general wellbeing. Research shows that poor sleep increases the risk for depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions.

Dr Kennedy adds regular exercise can also have a positive impact on other mental health conditions such as psychosis, trauma, bipolar disorder and even dementia.

How much exercise is enough?

The good news is that exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous or be done for long periods to be beneficial for your mental health. Dr Kennedy reckons 30 minutes of exercise, at least three times a week, can make a big difference.

“This might include incorporating a gentle walk into your routine, deciding to give yoga a try, or taking on some swimming classes,” he suggests.

Of course, the hardest part is getting started, but according to Dr Kennedy, the key to long-term success is to start nice and slow. He recommends creating an exercise plan that fits your schedule and goals, whether it be a short trip to your mailbox or an afternoon stroll around your neighbourhood. Remember, getting a little bit of physical activity is better than none.

“When our mood is low and we’re feeling sluggish, even making the effort to walk down the driveway to the mailbox is better than none at all,” he says.

Exercising with a friend or loved one is also a great way to get the ball rolling. In fact, one study published in the British Journal of Health Phycology found that having an exercise companion increases the amount of exercise we do.  

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