Elevate your mind: what’s the link between fitness and mental health?

The MIND 24-7 Team | January 17, 2024

As we start the new year, resolutions often focus on getting fit, but what about mental wellbeing? Our body and mind are connected, and making fitness a part of your plans can be a great way to boost your mood. In this blog, we dive  into fitness and feeling good inside by answering common questions like, “What are the benefits of exercise for mental health?” 

How does fitness affect mental health?

Research consistently shows that regular exercise has a significant impact on mental wellbeing. A study published by the American Journal of Psychiatry found that just 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times a week can lower the risk of depression by 25%. 

Another study published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine showed that exercise is an effective way to treat mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and distress. It also showed that exercise is beneficial for nearly all adults, including the general population and those living with mental health disorders and chronic disease. 

While it is common for people to think that some types of physical activity are better than others, all kinds of fitness can improve mental health. Let’s take a closer look at how different fitness activities affect mental health. 

  1. Fast track to feeling good: High-intensity exercise is a powerful mood booster because it releases endorphins, which are the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. The feel-good chemicals often kick in during the exercise session and last long after. This built-in happiness hack can significantly improve both physical and mental wellbeing.  
  2. Builds brain connections: Low-intensity exercise works out your body and your brain, helping the brain make new neural connections. This is particularly beneficial for individuals dealing with depression, as low-intensity exercise can help grow the part of the brain that regulates mood. 
  3. Reduces inflammation: Chronic inflammation and oxidative stress can make things harder for your mind and mood. Because exercise is known to reduce inflammation, it’s a great way for people to regulate their moods. 
  4. Improves sleep quality: Sleep struggles can take a big toll on mental health. Regular exercise can help you fall asleep, stay asleep, and sleep deeper. When you get the right amount of sleep, you feel better. A good night sleep also helps with a positive mindset and to handle any challenges that come your way. 
  5. Improves self-esteem: If many things in your life are not going well, it is easy to start to feel bad about yourself. Setting and achieving fitness goals can boost your self-esteem and make it easier to remember how strong and capable you really are. 
  6. Distracts from negative thoughts: When times are tough, negative thoughts can easily take over. Exercising is a great way to distract yourself from negative thoughts and worries. Whether you want to zone out on a run, relax on a walk, or focus all your attention on perfecting your weight-lifting form, exercising gives your mind something to do besides worry and stress. 
  7. Serves as a healthy outlet for frustrations: It can be hard to deal with worries, stress, and negative thoughts. People commonly look for ways to cope, and many of the popular choices can lead to more problems. Exercising, on the other hand, is a great way to release frustrations and build health along the way.  

Keep in mind that the timeline for improvements is different for everyone. While the changes might be subtle at first, after a few weeks of exercising regularly, you’ll start to feel a lot better. 

What are the benefits of exercise on mental health?

By now, it’s clear that exercise is great for mental health, but let’s take a moment to look more closely at some specific benefits. 

  1. Boosts your mood: Physical activity triggers the release of endorphins, which make you feel happy. It’s a natural and easy way to make you happy. 
  2. Reduces stress: Physical activity can cut down on the stress hormone called cortisol. When there is less cortisol in your body, you feel calmer. Physical activity is also a healthy way to release tension, negative thoughts, and sad emotions.  
  3. Reduces anxiety: Exercise can help balance neurotransmitters and hormones like serotonin and norepinephrine that keep anxiety in check. With regular physical activity, your mood is likely to be more stable, and your anxiety is likely to be lower. 
  4. Helps build confidence: Doing exercise regularly helps you feel strong and confident. It’s not just about looking good; it’s about feeling good about yourself.  
  5. Heals your brain: Physical activity isn’t just good for your muscles, it is also good for your brain. Exercise can help improve memory, concentration, and cognitive function so you can stay sharp, be focused, and feel great. 
  6. Reduces loneliness: Physical activity doesn’t have to be a solo act. Joining a group fitness class, finding a workout buddy, or joining a team sport can provide social connections and support, both of which are essential for mental health. 
  7. Boosts long-term Health: While some immediate improvements can be felt right away, the benefits of consistent physical activity compound over time. Long-term, consistent exercise can lower your risk of disease and mental health challenges in the future, setting you up for a lifetime of wellbeing. 

11 fitness tips for mental health

Now that the benefits of exercise on mental health are clear, you may be wondering how to make physical activity part of your life. Here are 10 fitness tips to get you started on a journey to better mental health.

  1. Find your groove: Physical activity doesn’t have to be grueling. Explore activities and find some that you genuinely enjoy, whether it’s dancing to your favorite tunes, swimming in a refreshing pool, or hitting the trails for some nature therapy. 
  2. Start small and celebrate progress: Don’t immediately overwhelm yourself with intense workouts. Begin with short, manageable sessions and gradually increase the duration and intensity as you feel comfortable. Every step and every movement counts, so celebrate each milestone. 
  3. Make it a lifestyle: Integrate movement into your daily routine. Take the stairs, park further away, or do stretches while watching TV. 
  4. Get outdoors: Spending time outdoors is a natural way to boost your mood. Get the extra mental health boost by exercising in parks, gardens, or even your own backyard. Breathe in the fresh air, soak up the sunshine, and let nature do its magic. 
  5. Make it social: As we touched on earlier, exercising with others can add a fun and supportive element to your fitness routine. Social interactions and encouragement can keep you motivated and boost your mood. 
  6. Listen to your body: Don’t push yourself too hard. Pay attention to your body’s signals and take rest days when needed. Overtraining can be counterproductive and lead to injuries or burnout. 
  7. Get solid sleep: Adequate sleep is crucial for both physical and mental health. Regular exercise can actually improve your sleep quality, creating a positive feedback loop for your wellbeing. 
  8. Focus on fuel: What you eat impacts your energy levels and mood. Choose nutritious foods that nourish your body and mind. Remember, hydration is important too!
  9. Be patient: Remember, lasting change takes time and effort. Be patient with yourself, avoid comparing yourself to others, and celebrate every step you take towards a healthier, happier you!
  10. Be consistent: Consistency is key. Even small doses of regular exercise can make a big difference in your mental wellbeing. 
  11. Go to MIND 24-7: While working towards your fitness resolutions, consider the round-the-clock mental health support offered by MIND 24-7. Having a reliable mental health resource available 24/7 ensures that you can address your mental health needs at any time.

Get same-day mental healthcare 

MIND 24-7 offers around-the-clock mental health care, making it easy to seek support during challenging times. Through Express care, we offer walk-in mental health services for patients who want to see a certified professional and quickly be on their way. Through Crisis care, we provide walk-in emergency treatment for children and adults. Through Progressions, we provide ongoing individual and group counseling and peer support for patients for up to 90 days. Our mental health care services include physical and psychiatric evaluation, medication review and refill, care planning, referrals, and lab services (when needed).

We currently have several locations in the Phoenix area, open every day of the year, all hours of the day and night, including holidays. 

For help with a mental health evaluation and to get same-day mental health care, visit one of our convenient locations or text/call 1-844-MIND247.