How exercise benefits mental health

By Kayla Hartson
Student Fitness Program Coordinator

About 1 in 4 American adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder. One method that has been shown to improve mental health symptoms and is completely free is exercise!

Most people are aware of the positive effects exercise has on appearance and physical health, but its effect on mental health is often overlooked.

What are the mental health benefits of exercise?

Brain Function – Research has shown that exercise releases neurotransmitters in the brain as well as endorphins that have been shown to improve mood and increase happiness. There is a large amount of evidence that supports the physiological benefits of exercise. The brain is simply one more key area of the body that is physiologically affected my movement.

Self Esteem – Exercise has been shown to increase people’s self-esteem or confidence in themselves to achieve a task or goal, which is related to strong mental health. That feeling of achievement people get when they finish exercise makes them confident they can do it again.

Ability to disconnect – Exercise provides the opportunity to take time out of the day to do something for yourself without any interruptions or distractions. People often feel overwhelmed by the ability to be reached via text, phone and social media at all hours of the day. Exercise provides that outlet to mentally unplug from the chaotic world for a moment to do an activity simply for joy.  

Social connection – Whether you attend a fitness class or workout with an accountability partner, exercise is a great way to interact with other people, increase happiness and develop a sense of belonging.

The key to seeing lasting improvements on mental health through exercise is consistency! Prioritizing movement each day will increase your sense of positivity and self-esteem.

This doesn’t mean that you must make time for a high intensity, 30-minute workout every day of the week. Maybe your physical activity of the day is going for a long walk with a friend or doing an at-home yoga sequence.

Often, the day we want to exercise the least is the day that it can benefit us the most. Practicing exercise habits with consistency will ensure mental health benefits and a positive and fulfilling life.

Follow the Student Fitness Centers on Instagram at @gcu.sfc for tips and motivation to stay healthy and moving!

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References:

McCall, P. (2016, June 7). The Benefits of Exercise on Mental Health. Retrieved April 28, 2020, from https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/professional/expert-articles/5982/the-benefits-of-exercise-on-mental-health/

Monaghan, E. M. (2019). Exercise for Optimal Mental Health: Here's Why Moving Can Be as Effective as Drugs. Retrieved April 28, 2020, from https://www.psycom.net/exercise-benefits-mental-health

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