We’ve all experienced it: you finish up an intense workout or pleasant stroll through the park and your body is tired, but mentally you feel amazing. Naturally, you feel good about reaching goals, staying active, and focusing on your health. But it turns out that physical activity is indisputably linked with mental health benefits.
And now, we need those mental health benefits more than ever. According to Mental Health America and their 2021 report, “The State of Mental Health in America,”the prevalence of mental illness among adults was increasing even before COVID-19. Now, the number of people looking for help with anxiety and depression has skyrocketed.
“From January to September 2020, 315,220 people took the anxiety screen, a 93 percent increase over the 2019 total number of anxiety screens. 534,784 people took the depression screen, a 62 percent increase over the 2019 total number of depression screens.”
The good news is that we can all improve our mental wellbeing simply by moving. The John W. Brick Mental Health Foundation states it simply: “Three decades of science make it clear: exercise should be integrated into prevention and treatment of mental illness and promotion of mental wellness. “
In their 80-page, “Move Your Mental Health Report”, they found that “approximately 89% of all published peer-reviewed research report a positive, statistically significant relationship between exercise/physical activity and mental health.” That’s huge.
Of course, an 80-page report is also huge. We didn’t really want to sift through that data either, but luckily for us, IHRSA did. They took a deep dive into the research and shared some of the key points. There was strong evidence that exercise reduced depression symptoms and was also beneficial for anxiety. And to get those benefits, you don’t have to overdo it. The peak benefits seem to occur with moderate-vigorous exercise three to five times weekly.
Another reason physical activity benefits wellbeing is because it releases chemicals in your brain that boost self-esteem, improve concentration, and help you sleep better. The Mental Health Foundation gives some great information and tips for everybody looking to boost their physical and mental wellbeing.
They note that any amount of physical activity is better than none. Assess your current fitness levels and choose activities, workouts and time limits that feel realistic. Pushing intensity does not necessarily intensify mental wellbeing results. If you’re looking to boost those “good feels” try getting active outdoors. “Research shows that being in nature can make us feel happier, feel our lives are more worthwhile, and reduce our levels of depression and anxiety.” (Don’t worry, we’re not linking you to another 80-page report about nature and wellbeing—you’re on your own to research that topic!)
Whether you’re generating energy on an ECO-POWR™ treadmill or simply talking a stroll outdoors, get active, get moving and get all the mental health benefits that come with physical activity!
While addressing depression and anxiety through exercise is great, please remember that it is not a singular solution. Movement activities should be integrated into mental illness treatment, early intervention and prevention. If you find yourself struggling, there are resources to help.
SAMHSA Treatment Referral Helpline, 1-877-SAMHSA7 (1-877-726-4727)
Get general information on mental health and locate treatment services in your area.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or Live Online Chat
Trained crisis workers are available to talk 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.