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Exercise for Mental Health: The Key to Living a Happy Healthy Life

You know there is a link between physical health and exercise. You know you can fight off diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity by doing physical activity. In all likelihood, none of this is new information to you. But just how much do you know about exercise and mental health? And do you know just how linked exercise and mental health are? The scary truth is that the link between them is as close as the link between physical health and exercise. Not only is your brain’s ability to function linked to how much physical activity you get, but so is the likelihood that you could suffer from mental illnesses—like depression or anxiety without it. Here we’ll look at the connection between exercise and mental health. Then we’ll give four reasons why one *very simple* type of exercise is the best way to improve your brain’s function. <h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">Does Exercise Affect Mental Health?</p></h4> It does, and more than you might think. You probably already know exercise lowers your risk of metabolic syndrome (diseases like heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes) and can prevent or reverse obesity. But it greatly affects mental health, too<sup>1</sup>. Exercise helps people deal with mental health issues and improves their well-being<sup>2</sup>. In fact, scientists say exercise is *the* single most important lifestyle modification for improving health and quality of life. The <a target="_blank" href=""><strong>right diet</strong></a> is important too, but exercise tops the list due to cost and accessibility. Not everyone can double their grocery bill on a whim to pay for higher-costing, healthier foods. But, nearly everyone can go outside or use <a target="_blank" href=""><strong>space in their home</strong></a> for a short workout. <h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">How Does Exercise Improve Mental Health?</p></h4> You know exercise strengthens your muscles and cardiovascular system. But did you know it strengthens your brain, too? Here are three benefits of exercise for mental health. <h5><p style="color: #000000">1. Improved Function and Cognition</p></h5> Aerobic exercise is especially helpful for increasing brain function and cognition<sup>3</sup>. Increased blood flow to your brain and increased hormone function from exercise help you gain clarity, feel alert, and function at your best. For work or life in general, regular exercise can be a serious boost for your brain’s health and performance. <h5><p style="color: #000000">2. Exercise Has A Spiral Effect</p></h5> Being sedentary is the *one* of the biggest reasons people become obese or diseased. Exercising *does* help, but poor diet, stress, lack of sleep, and many other lifestyle factors contribute to disease and obesity. We, and our mental health, are the culmination of our habits—or lack thereof. But regular exercise makes it more likely that you’ll *want* to eat well, get to bed a little earlier, and <a target="_blank" href=""><strong>feel less stressed</strong></a>. It has a positive spiral effect on the other habits in your life. <h5><p style="color: #000000">3. Fights Depression and Other Mental Illnesses</p></h5> Studies also show exercise to reduce the negative symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses<sup>4</sup>. In recent years, scientists have concluded that depression is more the result of brain chemistry than life experiences. Life experiences *can* play a factor in depression or other mental illnesses. But most cases of depression are due to a change in the biochemistry of your brain<sup>5</sup>. And here’s why exercise is a great way to improve brain chemistry and battle mental illness. <h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">What Are Endorphins?</p></h4> Exercise stimulates the release of *endorphins*, the feel good hormone many people are describing when they use the term “runner’s high.” This means that you feel happy, energized, and mentally alert after a good workout. Among the many benefits of endorphins, their primary relationship with mental health is that they alleviate depressive symptoms and improve your brain’s chemistry<sup>6</sup>. Other benefits of endorphins include: reduced stress and anxiety, increased self-esteem, and even weight loss. <div class="text-left my-5"> <img class="img-fluid w-md-75 image-center" src="" alt="concerned-man-blue-background"> </div> <h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">Sedentary Lifestyle and Mental Health—The Scary Truth</p></h4> As technology grows and people find less and less reasons to move their bodies, science is finding a scary link between living a sedentary lifestyle and poor mental health. For example, one study saw that people with lots of reported “leisure screen time” (time spent sitting on your phone, tablet or in front of the television) were more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, loneliness, and other psychological distress<sup>7</sup>. In fact, only two to three hours per day of screen time can lead to poor mental health. This is disturbing, considering the average American spends over four hours per day on their phone<sup>8</sup>. The scary truth is that—as a society—we’re the most technologically savvy that we’ve ever been. But we’re also the most overweight, diseased, and unhappy too. <div class="text-left my-5"> <img class="img-fluid w-md-75 image-center" src="" alt="running-shoes-walking-up-stairs"> </div> <h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">What Is The Best Exercise For Mental Health?</p></h4> We hope that was a wakeup call to address your mental health. If so, we recommend you start with regular exercise. But that might make you wonder what the best exercise is to improve your mental health and fight off anxiety and depression. We recommend you keep it simple and <a target="_blank" href=""><strong>start with walking</strong></a>. Walking is <a target="_blank" href=""><strong>low-impact</strong></a>, easy for anyone to do, and comes with a ton of health benefits on top of improved mental health. <h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">Why Walking?</p></h4> Walking to improve your mental health is great for many reasons (check out this article on the <a target="_blank" href=""><strong>benefits of walking</strong></a>). But here are four related to mental health. <div class="text-left my-5"> <img class="img-fluid w-md-75 image-center" src="" alt="man-meditating-in-field"> </div> <h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">1. Walking Is A Type Of Meditation</p></h4> You don’t have to sit on a mat or download a fancy app to practice meditation. It’s very easy to practice meditation (or at least to breathe mindfully) while you walk. Studies show meditation reduces stress, blood pressure, and <a target="_blank" href=""><strong>inflammation-causing</strong></a> cortisol. It can also improve brain function. Maybe a little physical activity can make meditation stick for you. <h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">2. It’s Simple (Heck, You Don’t Even Need Shoes)</p></h4> The last thing you need is a complicated, difficult-to-understand workout regimen if you have not been exercising. Don’t discount the benefits of a simple workout. You’ll stress less and be able to focus more on a workout you can do from the <a target="_blank" href=""><strong>comfort of your home</strong></a>. Walking is a proven way to lose weight and requires nothing more than a pair of shoes. And sometimes not even those are necessary! *Earthing*—walking barefoot on soil— has grown in popularity recently. The idea is that electrons in the soil have positive physiological benefits on your body and mind. <h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">3. Being Outside Boosts Your Mood</p></h4> Whether it’s a walk around the block or a stroll through the woods, being in nature is good for your mental health. Depression rates skyrocket in the winter for a reason—because your body stops coming in contact with the sun as much. Our bodies naturally make vitamin D when the sun comes in contact with our skin, and that helps elevate our mood<sup>9</sup>. <h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">4. Walking Has A Spiraling Effect</p></h4> Walking boosts your mood and burns calories. Endorphins released through exercise—yes, walking too—improve your mental health. And it’s the easiest form of exercise you can do to get back into a regular routine. What we’re saying is walking is the *easiest* buy-in available to you for making a lifestyle change. Starting with a few walks each week (we recommend three or four) you can start piecing the puzzle together and building up habits that improve your life and <a target="_blank" href=""><strong>transform your body</strong></a>. All it takes is the initiative to get outside for 20 or 30 minutes a day. <h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">Exercise and Mental Health—Wrapping Up</p></h4> The scary truth about exercise and mental health is that the two are basically married. There is a direct relationship between your exercise routine and how you feel about yourself. This is especially true if you suffer from mental illnesses like depression or anxiety. Don’t sleep on the benefits of keeping your workouts simple. We design all our workouts to be 30 minutes or less and to require no equipment. A few long walks or simple <a target="_blank" href=""><strong>at-home workouts</strong></a> are perfect for jumpstarting your healthy lifestyle change and improving your mental health. Check out our <a target="_blank" href=""><strong>YouTube channel</strong></a> and the <a target="_blank" href=""><strong>exercise section</strong></a> for more. And if you’re feeling ready for a change, consider joining the <a target="_blank" href=""><strong>Warrior Made community</strong></a>. We’ve helped thousands of people improve their health, transform their bodies and mental well-being, and change their lives. <h5><p style="color: #000000">Resources</p></h5> 1. <a target="_blank" href="">Exercise for Mental Health</a> 2. <a target="_blank" href="">Exercise for mental health: How much is too much?</a> 3. <a target="_blank" href="">Researchers Address the Importance of Exercise for Mental Health</a> 4. <a target="_blank" href="">How Your Mental Health Reaps the Benefits of Exercise</a> 5. <a target="_blank" href="">Exercise, Depression, and the Brain</a> 6. <a target="_blank" href="">What are the benefits of endorphins?</a> 7. <a target="_blank" href="">The associations between sedentary behaviour and mental health among adolescents</a> 8. <a target="_blank" href="">Are You On Your Phone Too Much?</a> 9. <a target="_blank" href="">How Sunlight Affects Your Mental Health</a>

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