How moving benefits mental health

How moving benefits mental health

We believe movement can change your life, which is why one of our core values is Active Living. Being active significantly impacts your health in a number of ways, from strengthening your muscles, heart, and lungs to decreasing risks of disease. However, moving doesn’t just benefit you physically – it’s one of the best things you can do for your mental health as well. 

Research shows that exercise, such as running and walking, can do wonders for your overall well-being…mind, body and soul. Here are 10 mental health benefits of getting out and moving (and the science to back them up!).

How Does Moving Help Your Mental Health?

Smiling woman doing yoga to relieve stress

1. Moving Relieves Stress 

When you move, there are some magical things that go on in your body. One such occurrence is a natural reduction of the stress hormone cortisol which lowers your stress levels. As you exercise, tension and tightness also decrease, reducing your stress even more. 

Getting out and moving can also help you work through pent up emotions and concerns that may be causing you stress. Even better news? As stress hormones decrease, a naturally-occurring chemical in your body called norepinephrine increases, and that improves your body’s ability to respond to stressful situations. So, not only does moving reduce your current levels of stress, but it can help you better cope with it in the future as well!

2. Moving Relaxes You

Endocannabinoids are naturally-produced substances in your body that are similar to cannabis, and when you exercise, they release into your bloodstream and brain. As you can imagine, since moving increases your heart rate and pumps blood through your body faster, these substances eventually flood your system and replace feelings of pain and anxiety with pleasure and a sense of relaxation and calm. 

This natural phenomenon occurs most often while running and thus has come to be known as the “runner’s high” – a relaxed state that can stick with you even after you’re done with your last mile.

3. Moving Improves Your Mood 

Some say getting out and moving is therapeutic, and guess what? Research actually backs that sentiment! In addition to stress relief and that natural high, endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine are all naturally occurring chemicals in your brain that increase in production as you exercise, and when they do, you just can’t help but be in a better mood.  

That’s because, as your blood gets pumping and circulation to your brain increases, so do these “feel good” chemicals that give your mood a natural lift. Add in fresh air and peaceful surroundings, and we’re talking smiles for miles! 

4. Moving Boosts Your Brain Power 

Can moving be as great for your brain as it is your body? Yes!  Like we said, there's a lot of magical things that happen when you move and yet another example is boosted levels of the neurotransmitter catecholamine and the protein BDNF (an easier way of saying brain-derived neurotrophic factor). This terrific twosome encourages new cell growth in the region of your brain responsible for memory and learning. It’s also believed to aid in decision-making, higher thinking, problem-solving, emotional resilience, retaining new information, and actually helping to prevent cognitive decline as well as protect against brain injury and disease. 

As if that isn’t enough, that dopamine we spoke of earlier? When it’s released, it doesn’t just help boost your spirits, it improves your focus, memory, alertness, creativity, and motivation too.

Guess you could say getting out there and exercising is a smart move!

Man looking at phone on couch.

5. Moving Eases Feelings of Depression & Anxiety

Not only does moving take your mind off your problems and shoo away negative thoughts and emotions, but its effects of reduced stress, a lighter mood, and a clearer, calmer mind all work together to help alleviate feelings of depression and anxiety. 

In fact, studies have shown that exercising can actually have an antidepressant effect similar to that of medication, and can possibly even reduce your risk of depression. No wonder it has become more and more common for movement to be encouraged as a valuable supplement to mental health medications and therapy. 

Person sleeping with running shoes in bed

6. Moving Helps You Get Better Zzzz’s

Since moving your body reduces stress and relaxes you, it should come as no surprise that it helps you sleep better, too. With less worries weighing you down, and the fact that you expended a bunch of energy so you’re just plain tired, you’ll fall asleep faster when your head hits the pillow. You’ll also sleep more deeply, which is great since there’s a whole lot of brain cell development going on as you snooze. 

Studies have also shown that exercise helps to regulate circadian rhythms (a.k.a. your sleep-wake cycle), heightening daytime alertness, and even reducing insomnia and sleep apnea symptoms. More shut eye and less lying awake means a reduced risk of emotional distress, mood disorders, and other cognitive issues as well.

Ah, but there is one catch: don’t decide to workout right before bedtime! It’s recommended to move no less than 1-2 hours prior to calling it a night so your mind has time to wind down and your body’s core temperature has time to drop back to normal, signaling your body that it’s time to sleep.  

Man smiling confidently in exercise clothes

7. Moving Cranks Up Your Confidence 

If you think about it, exercise helps your body get fit and feel strong, and that can be empowering. It can improve your sense of control, and also provide a sense of accomplishment as you achieve your goals. Plus, getting out and moving helps you gain perspective, grow your determination, and increase your capacity to overcome obstacles and fatigue – all things that can result in greater confidence and a great big boost to your self esteem.

Two male friends fistbumping

8. Moving Provides Social Support

It’s clear by now that working out has a host of mental health benefits, but exercise with others, and even more benefits abound! Not only can you double up on reduced stress and improved mood, but social connection and the feeling of belonging that comes with it can also chase away feelings of loneliness and isolation. Whether you join a run group, a gym class, or just go for a walk with a friend, moving with others can be just what you need to stay motivated, hold yourself accountable, and get the encouragement you need to achieve your goals. 

9. Moving Strengthens Your Immunity

The physical benefits of moving your body help you out mentally as well, since improved overall health reduces risk of medical issues that can cause you stress. Being active can also build up your immune system to fight off short term illnesses like colds and the flu that can bring you down. Think: strong body, strong mind.

10. Moving Increases Productivity

While it can be tough to fit exercise into a busy day, research has shown you will actually have more energy and be more productive if you do squeeze in the time to move. 

The adrenaline rush you get when you move will help you feel motivated to tackle the day’s agenda with clarity, focus, and positivity, plus it'll help you continue to stay energized throughout the day. Exercising can even improve your ability to go from one task to another more quickly and efficiently.

So what do you say? Let’s move!

Tips to Get Moving for Your Mental Health

If you want to experience all the mental health benefits of moving, you have to, well, get moving. So, here are some tips to start you on the path of an active, healthy life, both physically and mentally:

  • Start small and build up your activity gradually with a goal of moving at least 30 minutes, 3-5 days per week. 
  • Set mini goals along the way to help you stay motivated and feel like you’re getting somewhere. Be sure to celebrate accomplishments big and small as you go.
  • Give yourself time, especially if you haven’t been physically active for a while. It could take a couple months before you can comfortably reach your goal. Don’t overdo it! Remember – it doesn’t matter how far or how fast you move as long as you do.
  • Move how you like. You’re much more apt to start and stick with an activity if you enjoy and look forward to doing it!
  • Listen to your body. If you’re not feeling it, don’t stress. Take a break or switch to a different activity. In fact, varying activities is a great way to keep things fresh and boredom at bay.
  • Get social – find someone to move with you, take a class, or join a group. As we mentioned above, the benefits of moving with others are many.
  • If social isn’t your thing, try exercise technologies that can provide encouragement and keep you motivated while exercising on your own.  
  • Keep a journal to capture your accomplishments, reflect on your feelings, and measure how far you’ve come. 
  • If possible, stick to a schedule to make movement a regular part of each day. If you’re short on time, incorporate exercise where you can – take the stairs, park far from entrances…heck, get a set of squats in at your desk. It’s all good!
  • Support movement with healthy habits. Remember, good physical health promotes good mental health, so get plenty of sleep, stay hydrated, and eat a well-balanced, nourishing diet.

Here’s to Your Health – Both Physical and Mental!

Find all the support you need on your fitness journey at Gazelle Sports. From run groups and special events to all types of footwear, active apparel, and accessories for every adventure, we’ve got the gear to get you out there, and can’t wait to help you experience the physical and mental health benefits of moving. Let’s get started today!

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