10 Best Exercises to Boost Mental Health
Mental health has become a trending topic during this pandemic period. The prolonged lockdown and continuing anxiety over the coronavirus strains put mental health in the spotlight. In the past, people were reluctant to talk about their state of mental well-being, but now, more and more individuals are sharing their experiences and coping mechanisms to help others suffering from depression and other mental issues.
What is mental health?
In a nutshell, mental health is the state of your mind. It is the overall wellness of your psychological, emotional, and social health. Positive mental health means having a balanced, happy, and productive life. You can handle stress effectively, make good choices and decisions, and engage happily with other people.
In contrast, an unhealthy state of mental health displays a negative attitude, behavior, and mindset. Left unresolved, mental health issues can cause illness, burnout, sleepless nights, restlessness, anxiety attacks, or depression.
There are three significant factors that contribute to the state of your mental health:
- Genes or brain chemistry and other biological factors
- Family history of blood relatives with psychological or mental illness
- Abuse, trauma, and other terrifying life experiences
Other causes include unresolved problems, chronic pain, and medical conditions like cancer, prolonged use of drugs or alcohol, feelings of isolation and loneliness, and constant stress at work or personal life.
Is exercise effective in improving mental health?
While plenty of activities offer positive benefits, exercising is the simplest and quickest way to boost your mental well-being. In general, exercise improves cardiovascular health, which helps reduce anxiety and promote emotional stability. When you are more relaxed and balanced, you are better prepared to handle minor and major issues in your life.
Regular exercise supports the immune system and lungs, keeping them robust and healthy. Exercising at least 3x a week show better mental health, reducing the risk of depression and anxiety by up to 30%. By increasing movements through physical activities, your brain stimulates “feel good” hormones or endorphins. It leads to clearer thinking and greater self-esteem, letting you deal with anything that comes along the way.
Exercises that can boost your mental well-being
Walking is the most accessible and simplest way to improve your mental health. Even a 15-minute walk offers a huge benefit to your brain, improving alertness and promoting positive thoughts. The best way to embark on this activity is to make it an enjoyable and effortless experience. Just make a goal of putting your foot in front of the other and slowly build up your pace and distance goals to maximize its health benefits.
Have you heard the ‘runner’s high’? It refers to the sense of clarity and expansion that a person experiences after a marathon, sprint, or jog session. This beneficial high works like an antidepressant that lessens anxiety and stress. While it makes you catch your breath as you complete your running activity, it teaches you to manage your breathing to cope with the movements. As you run, your mind is focused on finishing and has no room for negative thoughts. Others claim that running helps them analyze and process their negative feelings while on the road.
Cycling gives a ‘cycling high,’ the same rush of adrenaline that you get from running. It pumps blood at a greater rate which stimulates quicker release and spread of endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, and other beneficial hormones associated with positive feelings. This activity effectively targets the heart and brain, the two main organs that keep humans alive. The blood flow brings in more nutrients and oxygen to the brain, resulting in improved performance.
The uniform, consistent cycling motion promotes a relaxing effect that stabilizes mental and physical functioning. It is also responsible for improving creative thinking, building new brain cells, and forming new thought patterns. This dynamic exercise helps you zone out and focus on the physical sensations, which clear and calm your mind. Regular cycling will help you conquer your stress, anxiety, and negative thoughts.
Ten minutes of low-impact workouts like swimming can boost your mental health. When you swim, your focus is regulating your breathing in time with arms and legs movement. So, it’s like doing a breathing exercise or yoga that works to calm anxiety, enhance your breathing, and tone your muscles.
If you want to release your anger quickly, hit a punching bag. The sharp, short jabs let you release your overwhelming emotions, which can be therapeutic. Boxing for mental health involves having an intense activity that releases endorphins or the ‘happy hormones’ that put you in a good mood.
Regular ‘sparring’ with another enthusiast will help you reach a certain ‘flow’ where you only focus on what’s in front of you. All Olympic champions, Buddhist monks, and meditation practitioners aim to achieve this state of mind. If you want to do it on your own, just buy a punching bag and boxing gloves. You can also enroll in a boutique boxing class near you.
If you’re into intense workouts, you can try bodyweight exercises or lifting weights activities. They help you build lean muscles, boost your confidence, as well as curb anxiety and stress. A low to moderate-intensity resistance training improves your cognitive muscles and enhances the functioning of the central nervous system. This workout keeps you composed and focused because it is crucial to reach your end goal or beat your own record. As your physical strength and tenacity increase, your mental muscles become stronger.
When you dance, you experience a rush of energy that increases your happy feelings. By simply getting into the music’s rhythm and swaying your body, you are allowing yourself to relax and release stress. Dancing is one way to express yourself and let go of negative thoughts or emotions. You can even dance in the comfort of your room and follow dance tutorial videos on YouTube.
Yoga is perfect for mental health as it integrates body-mind balance. The intentional gentle movements help you get in touch with the core of your being. Yoga poses are very powerful and dynamic. It teaches you to focus your mind and be mindful of your breathing, which is very therapeutic. Long, deep, steady breaths help in calming your thoughts and setting your nervous system goes into rest and digest mode. The experience sends signals in your body and mind that you are safe and not under attack.
Regular yoga trains your mind to view things from different perspectives, boosts your problem-solving ability, and generally makes you feel good. Choose a yoga practice that brings in yin-yang balance of the body and creates holistic healing.
While Pilates is known for strengthening the core and improving back health, it also helps in improving mental health. According to its founder Joseph Pilates, the original name of this exercise system is ‘Contrology,’ which means body and mind control. In essence, Pilates is a highly mindful exercise because you need to focus on the set of techniques and your body movements.
This kind of exercise is a great way to relax your mind and reduce stress because there are no competitive elements. You simply mobilize your body and focus on breathing to trigger the parasympathetic nervous system to take charge. This is the body system that is responsible for relaxation, sleep, and rest mode.
This is the quickest way to exercise your body and mind. It is perfect for busy people who do not have ample time to sweat out every day. You can do it anywhere, simply stand and stretch every 30 minutes of continuous work. Consider it as part of your health regimen to keep good circulation and avoid chronic back pains. Stretching lessens the fatigue and tension that build up during prolonged periods of sitting down.
Taking deep, conscious breaths is an effective way to calm your troubled mind and regain control. Overthinking and focusing on negative thoughts lead to confusion, anxiety, or even depression. One of the fastest techniques is practicing deep breathing exercises. It involves breathing in until your diaphragm expands and breathing out slowly. Focus on your breathing and slowly count 1 to 10 as you inhale and do the same as you exhale. Regular breathing exercises will help you regain balance and rejuvenate your senses.
Sometimes, the beginning is the hardest if you do not like exercising. However, motivating yourself with the instant benefits of exercises will make you more determined to improve your mental muscles. The key is to start small, like 5 to 10 minutes a day. Select the activity you enjoy doing and reward yourself with a cup of your favorite beverage or a warm bubble bath after completing your workout. Be creative and integrate your mental health exercises as you move around your home or work. Finally, consider them as an integral part of your healthy lifestyle and not just tasks that you need to tick off from your list to do.