The Benefits of Moving Around for Mental Health

Any physical activity that causes you to get off the couch and move can help improve your mood. From meditative movement to yoga, qigong, tai chi, and more, there are many ways to use movement to relieve depressive symptoms. Changing posture, breathing, and rhythm can change your brain, reducing stress, depression, and anxiety, and leading to a sense of well-being. It's no secret that staying active benefits your physical health in the long run, but many probably don't think about the mental health benefits of moving your body.

Exercise can be a fantastic tool to help ease feelings of anxiety, depression, stress, and more. According to the Mental Health First Aid curriculum, physical self-care is an important aspect of managing the symptoms of mental health challenges. Eating habits, exercise patterns, sleep, recreational activities, and more can have a significant impact on how a person feels and functions. In addition, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), regular physical activity can help keep the mind alert as you age and may even reduce the risk of depression and anxiety.

Exercise increases serotonin levels which improves mood and energy. It can also improve your mood and help you sleep better, two main factors in determining your mental well-being. In addition, if you start exercising regularly it will become part of your routine. You won't be afraid to tie your shoes or choose a workout.

It's useful to have a plan: make it part of your schedule or block free time on your calendar. For more tips on how to stay active during COVID-19, the CDC has an excellent resource guide. Physical exercise produces an anxiolytic effect on the brain. Both aerobic and conscious movement such as yoga help activate and replenish GABA, a neurotransmitter that plays a crucial role in the body's response to stress.

Regular exercise decreases and prevents depression, helping the body and brain to relax and eliminate stress. Research has shown that exercise is an effective but often underused treatment for mild to moderate depression. In addition, exercising outdoors (with proper sun protection) can help boost vitamin D levels and mood. Regular Exercise Can Have a Profound Positive Impact on Depression, Anxiety, and ADHD.

It also relieves stress, improves memory, helps you sleep better and improves your overall mood. And you don't have to be a fitness fanatic to reap the benefits. Research shows that modest amounts of exercise can make a real difference. Regardless of your age or fitness level you can learn to use exercise as a powerful tool to treat mental health problems, improve your energy and outlook, and get more out of life. Instead of allowing your mind to wander pay close attention to the physical sensations in your joints and muscles even inside you as your body moves.

In fact synchrony of movements can make it easier to remember what people say and what they are like. The person performed a standard push-up exercise while the participants watched then performed the same movement. Evidence suggests that by really focusing on your body and how you feel about exercising you can help your nervous system “peel off” and begin to get out of the immobilizing stress response that characterizes PTSD or trauma. Exercises that involve cross-movement and that involve both arms and legs such as walking (especially in the sand), running swimming weight training or dancing are some of your best options. Mindful movement and aerobic exercise indirectly stimulate mental health by improving sleep patterns in both quality and quantity of sleep. As you move and start to feel a little better you will often increase your energy enough to exercise more vigorously by walking further going for a run or adding a bike ride for example. Movement therapies are often used as complementary treatments for depression and anxiety when mental exertion psychotherapy or medications are not enough. And while the brain is the master control system for body movement the way you move can also affect the way you think and feel. One lesson my personal trainer taught me is that your movement should only be limited by your imagination.

But a recent study found that when you try to move in sync with another person it also improves your self-esteem. I had a craniotomy to remove a colloid cyst a little over a year ago and found that exercise often has the reverse effect on my mood.

Mandy Harland
Mandy Harland

Freelance coffee ninja. Extreme introvert. Passionate food trailblazer. Communicator. Subtly charming bacon fanatic. Friendly bacon nerd.

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