May marks Mental Health Awareness Month, and according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 1 in 5 American adults experience mental health issues each year.
With COVID-19, many of us are experiencing significant stress and anxiety from staying inside amid shelter-in-place orders, isolation, and quarantine. It’s more important now than ever to take care of our mental health – and adding some movement to your new routine can help.
Multiple studies show that exercise can provide a number of benefits for our mental health. Here are some of the most impactful.
#1: Exercise Helps Produce Endorphins
Regular exercise releases endorphins, which are chemicals that interact with your brain to reduce your perception of pain and trigger positive feelings throughout your body. This is a short-term effect that can happen whether you hit the gym regularly, or exercise every once in a while.
Perhaps one of the more well-known benefits of physical activity, these endorphins can help alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety, two of the most common mental health conditions affecting adults in America.
#2: Exercise Reduces Stress
Many factors can exacerbate a mental health condition, and stress is one of them. According to the American Psychological Association, exposure to long-term, chronic stress can lead to health issues such as higher blood pressure, weakened immune systems, and the development and aggravation of mental health conditions like anxiety, and depression.
Whether you struggle with a demanding job, children, schoolwork, a stressful home or financial situation, or other aggravating issues, stress can weigh heavily on your mind and body. However, regular exercise may help reduce our stress levels.
The APA states that exercise increases levels of norepinephrine in the brain, a chemical that helps modulate our stress responses. Studies show that exercise can help lower stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine after a workout.
#3: Exercise Promotes Healthier Sleep
Insomnia, sleeping too much, and disrupted sleep are common symptoms among many mental health conditions. Since chronic sleep deprivation and oversleeping can both have a negative impact on our physical and mental health, getting a good night’s sleep is important – but not always possible.
Researchers believe that regular exercise can improve your sleep quality. Studies show that moderate aerobic exercise can increase the amount of deep sleep you get each night, which is a stage of sleep important for rejuvenating your brain and body.
If you have a mental health condition that affects your sleep, getting some exercise earlier in the day could improve your slumber come bedtime.
#4: Exercise Can Help with Trauma-Related Stress Reduction
If you have experienced a traumatic event in your life, you understand firsthand how trauma can have a serious impact on your overall health and well-being. Exercise may help alleviate the tension and anxiety that may come with these conditions.
One study conducted among military veterans diagnosed with PTSD found that the short-term effects of regular exercise as part of a treatment regimen showed promising results. Regular exercise may help acclimate people with anxiety disorders to movement and activity, which may help reduce the severity of a panic attack.
While a workout might help alleviate some symptoms, exercise alone is not sufficient to treat a mental health condition. If you have depression, anxiety, or another condition, talk to your doctor about your treatment options. In many instances, your doctor will likely recommend exercise as a complement to your regimen.
To combat the stress and anxiety of living under our new stay-at-home lifestyle, get some movement in. Exercise when you can, aiming for 30 minutes per day and 150 minutes per week.
Stay indoors, and if you do leave your house for some exercise, practice social distancing by staying at least 6 feet away from those around you.
Stay well, readers!