We all already know that exercise is important to keep our bodies healthy, but what about using exercise to keep our minds healthy too? Part of the reason exercising feels so great is because of its powerful effect on mental health.
According to Dr. Claudia Reardon, a psychiatrist with UHS who specializes in the use of exercise to treat mental illness, there are multiple theories for exactly why exercise has this effect. One theory is that this mind-body connection comes from the physiological impact exercise has on the brain as it releases chemicals such as endorphins. Exercise also releases a chemical known as BNFF which works to counteract the negative physical effects depression has on our brains.
For those of us who aren’t scientists, it also just feels great to take a proactive approach to health through exercise and (bonus!) it can serve as a distraction from negative feelings.
To get the most out of exercise’s mental health benefits, try these three things:
- Start small.
Exercising means a lot more than finding time to hit the gym. Taking a five-minute study break to go for a walk and get some fresh air is an easy way to make you feel great. Even better, it has been found that walking in nature near trees and water is an excellent stress reliever and mood booster (*cough cough*… Lakeshore Path).
- Work out in a group.
We know working out with friends is a ton of fun (that’s why we love Group Fitness and Intramural Sports), but now, there’s science to prove that doing so has a huge impact on mental health. A recently published study looked at what types of exercise made the biggest improvements on the mental health of 1.2 million participants. Coming out on top of the list: team sports, with aerobic and gym exercise close behind. Working out with others has great social benefits like getting the chance to meet new people and having friends around as motivators. Playing team sports or simply working out around other people takes advantage of these social benefits of exercise and leaves you feeling great.
- Try something new.
To a certain extent, the mental health benefits of exercise work differently for everyone and it’s a matter of finding what’s best you. The best way to discover what that is is to try a form of exercise you haven’t done before. Love being in the water? Challenge yourself with log rolling. Enjoy lifting? Check out Group Strength. The possibilities are endless. Plus, when you try a new form of exercise, over time you’ll see yourself getting better at it. According to Dr. Reardon, “that sense of mastery over something is really helpful” when it comes to mental health.
The mental health benefits of exercise work differently for everyone, so what’s most important is finding what works best for you. As we head into the pressure of finals, remember to take some time to exercise. Your mind and body will thank you for it.