Mental health and physical health go hand in hand. If our mental health is struggling, our physical health is often impacted, and vice versa. Our physical sleeping habits, eating habits, and exercise regimen have a direct impact on our daily mental health. Exercise in particular can play an important role in maintaining your mental health. We heard from Talkspace therapist, Bisma Anwar, LMHC, who shared a few tips on how to incorporate exercise into your life and why it can be so helpful.
How Can Exercise Help Your Mental Health?
Exercise can help with many mental health illnesses, such as: depression, anxiety, psychotic disorders, addictions, and eating disorders. Additionally, exercise can help boost mood, and can work to decrease chronic pain and daily stress. Exercise also regularly boosts our self-esteem so we feel more confident and positive about ourselves. The effect of exercise on mental health can be seen in a recent study at the Trauma Center at the Justice Resource Institute in Brookline, Mass, where women were divided into two groups. One group took part in yoga sessions and the other group was put in a dialectical behavior therapy group. The participants that practiced yoga reported experiencing significantly reduced PTSD symptoms as compared to the women who participated in the DBT group. In another study at University of California, Los Angeles, psychologist David Shapiro, PhD, found that participants that did yoga three times a week for eight weeks reported a decrease in depressive symptoms and anxiety, as well as improved mood.
Exercise & Mental Health Tips from a Therapist
It might feel overwhelming to get started with exercise and movement to help with your mental health, but there are simple activities you can begin with that make a huge impact.
- Get outside and walk around — If you’re feeling stressed out, this simple cardio activity can be highly effective. You can go to a park or walking trail or just walk around your block.
- Practice yoga — Yoga is a low-impact exercise that also incorporates deep breathing and meditation, making it a great source of exercise for improving your mental health. There are many types of yoga and you can choose one that works best for you. There are even online classes if you’re unsure about committing to an in-person yoga class.
- Try breathing exercises — Breathing exercises like box breathing, progressive muscle relaxation and meditation can help ease anxiety and also has physical health benefits. Box Breathing refers to the fact that a box has four sides, so you are breathing slowly counting to four for a total of four times — four counts of breathing in, four counts of holding your breath, four counts of exhaling and four more counts of holding after your exhale. Progressive muscle relaxation (or PMR) is an exercise that directs you to slowly tense and then relax each muscle of your body – from the top of your head to the tips of your toes!
- Find exercises you enjoy — This tip might seem simple, but people often struggle getting started because they’re forcing themselves to try exercises they find boring or even painful. Focus on activities you enjoy that get your body moving. Exercise doesn’t have to mean running on the treadmill or climbing a Stairmaster, it can also include things like jumping rope, hiking, gardening, sports, or dance routines.
- Treat yourself — Getting into a regular exercise routine can be very difficult. Make a special routine and do something nice for yourself after each time you go to the gym, get out for a hike, or go to a yoga class. This can be something as simple as getting an iced coffee or smoothie, visiting your favorite store, or getting a snack. Having that treat to look forward to each time you exercise can help you keep motivated to stick to the routine as you build it. Treating yourself helps the exercise itself will become more routine and seem like less of a big deal to do.
How to Start Exercising
It can be hard to give yourself the push of motivation to immediately start an exercise routine or sign up for the gym. It is important to set ourselves up for success by setting up realistic goals. Try to ease into working out by doing it a few times a week as opposed to everyday, which might not be manageable for most people.
When to Get Help
Although yoga and other forms of exercise can significantly help with improving mood, decreasing stress, and other mental health issues, it’s not a cure-all. Reach out to a therapist if you’re struggling with your mental health and find that exercise and other lifestyle changes don’t help. It can be beneficial to engage in therapy to speak to a professional about your mental health issues, whether that is through online therapy or in-person therapy. Talkspace matches you to a therapist who can help you work through your mental health concerns.
Originally posted on Core Power Yoga.