May is Mental Health Awareness Month. No longer a taboo topic of conversation, our mental health is as important to our overall wellbeing as eating our leafy greens and getting our daily exercise. But did you know that these two areas are actually linked?
Studies have shown that physical health and mental health are interrelated. You literally can’t have one without the other. No, we didn’t just double your self-care routine. Here are just a few reasons that getting moving and staying active can help heal an ailing mind.
Better sleep. One of the truest signs of depression and other forms of mental illness is insomnia. As we lie in bed, our minds wander (and worry) leaving us scattered, grumpy and sluggish the next day. Enter exercise. It’s a well-known fact that physical activity by day means more Zzzzzs by night. Sleep for the active person is improved both in quantity and quality allowing for improved focus and energy the next day so you can hit the ground running. In other words, activity begets sleep which in turn begets energy for activity thus bettering the next night’s sleep and so on.
Increased self-esteem. It stands to reason that looking better + feeling stronger = a better overall feeling about yourself. In a world obsessed with body image, exercising even 2-3 days a week can have a salient impact on your self-confidence. Defined by the National Institute of Health as “a person’s evaluative judgment of the self,” self-esteem can often be associated with personal accomplishment, and regular exercise offers many opportunities for setting goals as well as hitting goals. So go the extra mile … figuratively and literally.
Reduced stress. Exercise allows you to focus on a single task enabling you to clear your mind and distract yourself from worry. Even more, it releases endorphins, the feel-good chemical messengers that travel throughout the body. Often nicknamed a runner’s high, this relaxing state of euphoria can also be achieved by cycling, swimming, walking or any form of aerobic activity. And because stress reduction is directly correlated to improved digestive health, cardiovascular health and overall immunity, it can be deduced that the act of exercise actually gives you less to worry about in the first place. See how that works?
More sociability. Enlisting the support and, more importantly, the participation of a friend for your fitness routine will solidify your commitment by holding yourself accountable to another person. It’s much easier to quit or opt to curl up with Netflix on the sofa with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s if no one else is waiting for you. Exercising with a buddy also provides a regular outlet for you to connect with friends socially and process the day or the problems du jour. So call a friend! It’s Mental Health Awareness Month, and who among us doesn’t need a second (or third) opinion on most things?
Longer life. According to healthline.com, at least 30 minutes of daily activity combined with a quality diet, alcohol moderation, smoking abstinence and weight maintenance (BMI of 25 or less) are the building blocks of long life. Some days that 30 minutes may be walking on a treadmill catching up on back episodes of Grey’s Anatomy while others may be hiking up a mountain carrying heavy gear. The bottom line is just making the time and doing it. It’s more important than the dishes, laundry, Facebook, etc. And with death consistently appearing on the top ten life stressors for most people, taking that fear off the table … or at least pushing it back a good bit … is a big shot in the arm for your mental health.
“You’re only one workout away from a good mood.”
– Valerie Walters, Los Angeles personal trainer to the stars
Michele Robert Poche