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Exercise and Mental Health

“I’m so stressed out and making time for the gym would stress me out even more.” If I had a penny for every time I heard this…

I am no doctor, therapist, psychologist, or medical professional of any kind, but what I am is a human being who experiences a million and one emotions and feelings each second of every single day of my life, much like you.

So hear me out—EXERCISE CAN HELP. Anxiety? Sprint it out. Depression? Try going for a walk. Stressed? Throw some weight around (with good form of course!). Tired? You guessed it, go to the gym. (Disclaimer: professional medical attention should be sought if you have anxiety, depression, or chronic fatigue, I am merely stating what could aid in feeling better). And as someone who has experienced all of these things in my lifetime, I feel like it’s my duty to express how exercise has helped me, and could also change your life. 

“No matter your age or fitness level, you can learn to use exercise as a powerful tool to feel better.”

Exercise has infinite biochemical, psychological, and emotional benefits. It promotes the release of endorphins, which are the powerful “happy” chemicals in your brain that help to relieve stress, pain, and boost happiness. It’s linked to neural growth, reduced inflammation, and new activity patterns in the brain. It improves concentration, motivation, memory, and mood. Physical activity immediately boosts the brain’s dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels—which all affect focus and attention. 

Feeling stressed can quite literally be physically painful. Your muscles may be tense in your face, neck, and shoulders. Maybe your chest feels tight and your lower back hurts. Or perhaps you have physical symptoms such as diarrhea, stomachache, or headaches. You have so much to do, you certainly don’t have time to exercise. Exercising is an effective way to break this vicious cycle. In addition to releasing endorphins, physical activity helps to relax the muscles and relieve tension in the body. 

“Since your body and mind are so closely linked, when your body feels better, so will your mind.”

The benefits are not only reaped during the time of exercise, but maintaining an exercise schedule can prevent relapse. A 15-minute walk or run a day is enough to reduce the risk of major depression by 26%. FRIENDS. A 15-MINUTE WALK. Something so simple could change your whole life. 

On a non-scientific hand, exercise serves as a distraction. It allows you to find some quiet time to break out of the cycle of negative thoughts that feed depression. It gives you time to self-reflect and get really in tune with your body or it could give you time to escape, breathe and focus on your bodies capabilities. Going to the gym is my favorite hour of the day because it’s 60 minutes that I dedicate to myself. I’m there for me, to crush my goals, to challenge my body, and refresh my mind. It’s 60 minutes where all my worries and to-do list are left at home. 

Your self-confidence will increase. You will overcome challenges and meet fitness goals that will make you feel good about yourself and your abilities. You will probably even feel better about your appearance, which could spark some confidence within. 

People claim that exercise energizes them and it’s really hard to believe because aren’t you expending all your energy exercising? You’re super tired and have been sedentary all day, you certainly do not have time to exercise because you’re exhausted. You’ve heard the phrase use it or lose it. It’s kind of like that; the lazier you are the more tired you will be. Quality sleep is obviously crucial to our health, but if you’re sitting around, napping, immobile, and/or sleep for the better half of the day, you’re tired because you are not active enough. This seems a bit counter-intuitive, but physiologically it makes complete sense.  

In my own experience, sometimes I have felt so down and hopeless, but forcing myself to get up and get some fresh air by going for a peaceful walk around the neighborhood always boosted my spirits, even the slightest bit to give me hope. When you

feel like this, it’s hard to even imagine leaving bed; there is absolutely nothing in the world that sounds even remotely fun, but for me, forcing myself to move allowed me to see the world in a better way and impact my mindset. 

Here is something to always keep in mind; a little bit is better than nothing. Just 5 minutes is better than none. You have nothing to lose by exercising. It might just be what your body and mind is asking for.


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