If you’ve ever hit the gym or gone on a brisk walk after a stressful day, chances are good that you felt better afterward, both physically and mentally.
Most of the time, people feel accomplished and more relaxed after even a little bit of exercise. And while good exercise habits help with improved physical outcomes, evidence shows that there’s a strong link between exercise and mental health too.
Bianca Hitt, a licensed clinical social worker at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital’s East County Outpatient Mental Health Services in El Cajon, answers four questions about just how important exercise can be for mental health.
- What are the benefits of exercise on mental health?
Exercise improves your mood by releasing endorphins and serotonin — the “feel good” neurotransmitter in the brain — which help create feelings of happiness and reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress. Exercise also promotes better sleep and helps to prevent cognitive decline and memory loss by increasing the production of cells in the brain responsible for memory and learning. Exercise can also help foster a person’s self-confidence.
- Are there any downsides to doing too much exercise? If so, how does one find the right balance?
Yes. Some downsides involve becoming injured or fatigued from over-exercising. It is also important to find a healthy balance in your fitness routine so as not to develop an obsession by giving your body the time it needs to recuperate.
- Are there any forms of exercise that are better than others for mental health?
Being outdoors promotes relaxation and decreases stress, so outdoor exercise can be even better than working out at the gym or at home. Many find that exercising outdoors on a regular basis is therapeutic. Yoga is also a great way to practice mindfulness and help you take a break from daily stressors. Exercising with a friend can help you stick to a routine and help you enjoy your workout more.
- What are some recommendations for frequency and length of workouts that someone should follow to optimize their mental health?
The World Health Organization recommends that healthy adults ages 18 to 64 do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week. This can be broken up by doing 30 minutes of exercise five times a week.
Hitt recommends checking with your doctor before starting any new exercise routine and to pace yourself so you can create a habit that can potentially last a lifetime.
For the news media: To talk with Bianca Hitt about exercise and mental health for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at email@example.com.