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Important Connections Between Exercise & Mental Health

June is a fantastic month. It is the host to many weddings, outdoor events, and summer nights before things get too sweltering in July and August. For this reason, June is also a great month to talk about exercise. Given how comfortable it is outside, maybe we’ll all get a few more steps in!

The connection between mental health and exercise is long-established and personally experienced by so many who “just feel better” when they have gotten outside, to the gym, or even a video or yoga session in their own home. But how much exercise makes a difference? What kind of exercise do we need? How exactly does it affect our mental health in a positive way? We will explore these questions today.

How Much Exercise Improves Our Mental Health?

Many people are keen to improve their mental health, but they want to know exactly how much exercise is supposed to make a difference. In a recent comparison of fifteen studies, the researchers concluded it is often not as much as you might think.

For adults, the public health recommendation for exercise is at least 2 hours and 30 minutes to 5 hours a week of moderate-intensity exercise or just over an hour to 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate to intense exercise (health.gov). However, it is important to note that even accomplishing the lower end of that recommendation was connected to a lower risk of depression than those who did not exercise. In fact, not moving at all was associated with an increased risk of depression of 18-25%. The recommendation for beginning an exercise routine is to begin with five or ten-minute walks.

Woman outside kneeling down on one knee and tying the shoelaces on a tennis shoe

What Kind of Exercise Improves Our Mental Health?

As offered above, several hours of moderate-intensity or around an hour or two of more intense aerobic exercise has been connected to a lower risk of depression. But, are there other kinds of exercise that can improve our mental health? Any exercise can have benefits but yoga, often paired with meditation practices, are a frequent recommendation for people suffering from mental health concerns. No matter what type of exercise someone chooses (cardiovascular, strength training, balance, or flexibility) there are benefits to movement of any kind and pursuing activities we enjoy.

Man who uses a wheelchair playing basketball

How Does Exercise Improve Our Mental Health?

While the duration, intensity, and type of exercise certainly have an effect on our mental health, how exactly does it happen? There is likely much we do not understand, but we do have some understanding of the how and why of exercise being so beneficial for mental health. The first is related to the neurotransmitters, hormones, and endorphins that are released through aerobic exercise. These are tied to improved mood, reducing cognitive sluggishness/fogginess, decreasing stress, improving sleep, and more. The second, most often connected with yoga and meditation practices, is that new brain cell connections are made improving memory, thought, language, and attention.

Man doing yoga in an apartment

So, no matter what kind of exercise you like best, or even if you don’t like to exercise, it is positive for your mental health to find something you can do a few hours a week. Your body, emotions, spirit, and mind will thank you!

June 8, 2022. By Anne Rulo, Author, Speaker, Therapist. www.annerulo.com. FB/IG/Twitter @annemrulo 

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