Supporting Mental Health with Healthy Exercise Habits

6 March, 2020

By Nikki Halvorsen

We talk a lot about improving our health in the fitness industry, for obvious reasons, but too often, mental health is omitted from the conversation. While some people may feel there is a stigma surrounding mental health issues, there has been a push in recent years to end that embarrassing or shameful feeling. Mental health plays a huge role in overall health and wellness, and in turn, physical wellness contributes to a healthy, balanced mindset and emotional stability. Since the two go hand in hand, it is an obvious practice in self-care to use healthy exercise habits as a way to improve or support mental well-being

There have been numerous studies done on immediate and long-term effects of exercise as a primary or supportive therapy for those suffering from mental health issues. Even just one workout has been clinically proven to reduce stress and provide better focus or mental clarity. It is also common to feel an immediate boost of energy that can last throughout the day, as well as better sleep that same night.

With so many benefits coming from just one exercise session, it makes sense that those who develop healthy exercise habits and move their bodies regularly experience even more long-term benefits on their emotional well-being. When people exercise regularly, they typically feel healthier, which leads to a big boost in self-esteem and confidence. Also, when exercise becomes a routine, it can be used as a healthy coping mechanism, replacing some potentially harmful forms of self-medication like drinking, smoking, or emotional eating, to name a few.

Some studies have even suggested that those who exercise regularly, can process and handle stress better in their daily lives than those who do not, especially those who participate in high-intensity types of exercise. This is due to our natural “fight or flight” response to a stimulating situation. Instead of jumping to panic mode, our exercisers who regularly experience the adrenaline of an intense workout can think more clearly and rationally when they feel that surge of adrenaline from a different, external stimulus.

Another way we see the long-term benefits of exercise is when it is used as a practice in mindfulness. Mindfulness and meditation go hand in hand as key players in anxiety and stress management. Repetitive exercises in particular, like running, rowing, cycling, or vinyasa yoga can be a great practice in mindfulness leading to even more of a payoff in stress reduction. When we use these types of movements as a form of meditation, we build that skill of staying present and in the now. Try matching breathing with movement, or counting strides, or just taking mental notes of all five senses and what they are experiencing in the present moment.

Of course, on paper, all of these benefits sound wonderful, but what if someone is already depressed? Depression is known for draining motivation and depleting the desire for self-care. While it may seem impossible, there are a few ways to ease that overwhelming feeling of getting started. First and foremost, starting small is the way to go. For someone that does not typically exercise, a 30 minute yoga flow on the living room floor, or even just a quick walk around the block can help immensely compared to doing nothing at all. Exercise should feel pleasurable (and keep in mind, “pleasurable” is a relative term), not something that is looming overhead or something that is being forced. For someone that has been struggling just to get out of bed in the morning, making a goal of getting up at 4:30 AM for a 5:00 AM boot camp is just not realistic, and not reaching that goal can be incredibly deflating. Setting an achievable daily goal is the way to go.

For those that are in somewhat good health, physically, mixing up a workout routine or trying something new might be the best way to get out of a funk. Asking a personal trainer for some new individual workout routines is a great idea for those that may feel shy or nervous about trying a new class. Getting out of a comfort zone can be tough, but maybe a barre or pilates class will be a new favorite. Working out with other people, i.e. in a gym or a group fitness setting, can also be really impactful because it provides all the benefits of exercise, with the added benefits of socialization, support, and accountability.

No matter the goal or fitness level, all of us here at Raintree are here to support and encourage our members and guests. We strive to inspire growth and impact lives in all we do. We asked personal trainer and nutritionist Ashley Talebi about how physical health affects mental health, and she summed it up as such: Your exterior is not the definition of your health. Your health is how you feel when you wake up. It’s giving yourself the ability to complete the activities you love and nourishing your body to fuel your lifestyle. Stay active, eat well, and your body and brain and heart will thank you!

***World Mental Health Day is October 10th! Join us for a mid-week meditation in the Enlighten Studio at [insert time here]. Please help up spread awareness by wearing green and picking up your pin from the front desk.