Exercise can play an important role in maintaining physical health. But it also can contribute to your mental well-being.
Margaret Bryant with Parkland Hospital System likens using exercise for mental fitness to a prescription for a specific medical problem.
“So when we think about exercise,” she said, “we’re going to prescribe it in a way to target certain muscle groups or target certain functions or things that aren’t functioning well.”
Bryant says breathing exercises and meditation can be good ways to start and “get your mind in the right place.” Larger movements like walking, a certain sport or exercises for better flexibility can release hormones the provide a sense of well-being.
The important thing is to choose a form of exercise you enjoy.
"When exercise is done on a regular basis," Bryant said, "and it’s done with the mind in a good state, then you can start to reap the benefits."
On helping with depression: Exercise can help depression by first getting in a mindful awareness. Being able to go internally and focus your breathing is a good start. You can then start to progress maybe even a little meditation and get your mind in the right place. Then you’re going to be more apt to now get out and do larger movements like walking or maybe a certain sport.
How much exercise: When we have a regular exercise program going — at a minimum of three times a week for about 30 minutes of moderate level activity – you will be able to avoid some of the mental downfalls leading to depression. As soon as you get you blood flowing, the brain will release endorphins, a type of hormone that gives you a “feel-good” and a sense of well-being.
What counts as exercise: I have emphasized, say for a person who’s just been released from the hospital, your daily exercise is going through your daily activities. That means get out of bed, put your clothes on, get to the bathroom and take care of yourself, make a meal. All of that activity is exercise, it is movement. And as you recover, you can start to get exercise outside, if that’s going to be available.
Other forms of exercise: Flexibility exercises. Yoga, tai-chi, stretching. As an individual continues to be consistent on any of those flexibility exercises, then we start to enjoy life better and reap the benefits for our mental health.
- Royal College of Psychiatrists: Exercise and Mental Health
- NIH: Tips To Help You Get Active
- NCBI: Exercise for Mental Health
- Psychology Today: Beyond the Feel-Good Factor: Exercise and Mental Health
Interview responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.