woman smiling after workout

3 Exercises That Will Transform Your Mental Health

With Mental Health Awareness Month upon us, it is essential to acknowledge the invisible diseases that affect so many around the world.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, about 1 in 5 adults are affected by an anxiety disorder in the United States and Major Depressive Disorder is the leading cause of disability of those aged 15 to 44.3.  The National Alliance on Mental Illness found that a staggering 60 percent of American adults, and almost half of children ages 8-15, receive no treatment for their mental health diagnosis.

While mental illness has become a pandemic, there is one universal remedy that can relieve some symptoms associated with anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, eating disorders, addictions, grief, dementia, stress, and countless others: exercise. The previous ideology that there is a division between mind and body has proven to be incorrect. Your body is your mind and your mind is your body, meaning there is a direct correlation with the care of your body and the care of your mind.

While it is important to incorporate any physical activities in your daily life, research suggests these three activities, in particular, could help relieve symptoms of mental illnesses.


Running

Running is a free, easily accessible exercise, and there is a reason it is considered one of the best exercises for your health, both mental and physical. Running torches calories, reduces food cravings, and reduces your risk of heart disease. But, it also has been shown to improve your mood. Running releases endorphins and serotonin, the body’s feel-good hormones, and reduces stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. Moreso, the repetitive motion of running appear to have meditative effects on the brain.

A 2006 study published in the Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience found evidence that exercise works in a similar way to antidepressants, alleviating major depressive disorder through promoting the growth of new neurons in the brain.

Running also regulates your circadian rhythm, making it easier to fall asleep at night. More quality sleep benefits your mental health by improving your memory, lowering your stress levels, and protects your brain against depression.

Hiking in nature

There is evidence that being around nature like plants, trees, and especially decaying trees can help reduce anxiety. Nature reduces anxiety because these plants emit chemicals that slow down the process of their decay which, in turn, appear to slow us down as well. A 2009 study published in Environmental Health and Preventative Medicine found those who took a 20-minute walk in the woods had lower stress levels than those who took the same walk in the city. Another 2016 study found that when young adults went on a 50-minute nature walk they felt less anxious and had improved memory function.




Yoga

Yoga is proven to significantly reduce depression, anger, anxiety, and neurotic symptoms. Many experts believe that it is yoga’s focus on the breath that is especially beneficial to mental health, as it is difficult to be anxious when you are breathing deeply. A 2007 study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found the significant reduction in mental illness symptoms enough to recommend yoga as a complementary treatment to depression.


While exercise can significantly decrease mental illness symptoms, you should still consult with your doctor about your treatment options.