Home / Health and Wellness / Time to get moving: Activity benefits mental as well as physical health
mental health
Image: Pexels.

Time to get moving: Activity benefits mental as well as physical health

Spring is a great time to get active and start losing weight gained during the long winter months. Exercise also contributes to better mental health.

“Physical activity can improve many mental health symptoms, including stress, depression and anxiety,” said Dr. Abby Cheng, an assistant professor and director of research at the Living Well Center at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

With around 23 percent of U.S. adults having some level of poor mental health, those benefits can be significant. The high numbers may be driven by GenZ and Millenial women, among whom, 57% report mental health issues. According to Psychiatrist.com, 42% of GenZ overall report mental health issues with 1 in 5 having sought counseling and 60% on medications.

But there are ways to address the issue in one’s lifestyle.

Poor mental health can lower the quality of life — both for an individual and their family and loved ones — as well as make it harder to be engaged at work or school or with other key obligations.

READ: Mental health and social media warning from Surgeon General

Regular physical activity can help prevent or manage longstanding mental health symptoms and can have more immediate effects on how we’re feeling, Cheng said. Short, “on-demand” periods of activity can quickly help with symptoms such as stress and anxiety. “Physical activity causes the brain to send out ‘happy’ chemicals like endorphins and serotonin, which make us feel better, raise our energy levels and reduce pain,” she said.

If activities such as running, swimming or trips to the gym don’t excite you, there are many other options. Most activities that get your body moving more than normal can have mental health benefits. They can be walks around the neighborhood, weeding in a community garden, doing strength exercises in the park or giving a child a piggyback ride — whatever you enjoy.

Ideally, this should add up weekly to around 150 minutes or more of moderate-intensity physical activity, such as walking or gardening, or 75 minutes or more of vigorous-intensity activity, such as running or lap swimming. Vigorous activities may provide the biggest boost to mental health, but the most important thing is to try to be active regularly, whatever the type or amount. And if you’re starting a new routine, be sure to start small and slowly build from there. That’s the best way to keep up with physical activity over time. And don’t be shy to ask for advice or help.

It is worth considering that physical activity and exercise can have an immediate benefit to how we feel, and that may provide extra motivation for lacing up our shoes, texting a friend and heading out together for a walk. Often, the hardest part of most activities is just getting started.

“For someone who is experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety or bothersome stress,” Cheng said, “physical activity should be one of the first steps taken to address those symptoms.”

–Dwight Widaman | Metro Voice

Leave a Reply