We know that exercise is beneficial for our bodies. It improves cardiovascular health, bone strength, mobility, muscle tone, and weight management, as well as potentially adding years to your life. Exercise is also recommended to ease symptoms of diabetes, digestive issues, high blood pressure, and arthritis.
However, exercise also plays a critical role in our mental health.
Regular moderate exercise can significantly positively impact anxiety, depression, stress levels, and ADHD. Exercise additionally improves your sleep, enhances memory, and boosts mood.
Regardless of your current fitness level or age, it is possible to use exercise as a powerful tool to manage mental health issues, raise energy levels and enable you to get more out of life through a positive mindset.
How Exercise Helps
Exercise is a potent depression-fighter due to the stimulation of feel-good endorphins. Exercise releases endorphins and a multitude of other hormones and chemicals connected to our brain’s pleasure and reward circuit. As such, they improve your overall sense of well-being.
Exercise is also a natural anti-anxiety treatment and effective antidote to stress as these endorphins help relieve tension, stress and boost mental and physical energy and clarity. Mindfulness is a powerful remedy for anxiety symptoms, and exercise provides a perfect situation for bringing awareness to your body and surroundings.
Physical activity can even reduce the symptoms of ADHD as the chemicals released include dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, which improve concentration, motivation, memory, and focus. Numerous studies have evidenced that these effects are comparable to the ADHD medications such as Ritalin and Adderall.
Researchers have found there were considerable differences in monitoring mood levels after periods of inactivity compared to bouts of physical activity. Participants were found to be happier, more content, calmer, and have greater energy levels. Whatsmore, the difference was accentuated when the initial mood was low.
Therefore, if you struggle to get going due to feeling fatigued, depressed, or anxious, try to remember that you will likely feel entirely different after exercising!
Tips to Motivate
The term exercise may send shivers down your spine if you envisage circuit training at the gym or running laps till you collapse. But fear not!
Physical activity and exercise are not the same things, and this is a key differentiator to help you start moving.
Of course, basketball, running, weights, and gym sessions will be beneficial, but so will a wide range of other activities. Washing your car, cleaning the house, gardening, walking around the block, or dancing in the kitchen will all improve your mental well-being and release those powerful endorphins.
Here are some tips to encourage you off the couch and get your heart pumping!
Choose Something You Enjoy!
Identify which physical activities you enjoy the most, as you will be far more likely to follow through. Also, identify when you are most likely to do these activities. For example, would you prefer to garden in the evening or go for a bike ride first thing in the morning?
If you have not exercised for a long time or find yourself under a cloud of depression or anxiety, the challenge to exercise might feel too great Five to ten minutes a day is more beneficial than nothing, and this can be built upon as confidence, strength, and stamina increase.
Set Achievable Goals
We have all set goals of abstaining from a particular food for a month or exercising for an hour a day seven days a week, only to fall at the first hurdle. This is an entirely unhelpful approach as we end up feeling despondent and therefore unlikely to continue. Instead of setting extravagant goals which you will be unable to accomplish, start with small manageable targets. Be realistic about what you can do and when you can do it. By tailoring a plan to meet your schedule, lifestyle, and abilities, you are far more likely to succeed.
Realise It’s a ‘could’ Not a ‘should’
If exercise is yet another chore on your to-do list for the day, you are likely to end up dreading it. You will probably come up with a whole host of reasons why you cannot possibly exercise, and once the opportunity has passed, you’ll likely feel regretful. Instead, focus on why you chose to exercise in the first place and list the positive changes you have noticed in yourself. This will help motivate you and keep you on track.
Lastly, please give yourself credit for every step that you make in the right direction. You deserve a high five, no matter how small those steps may be. Take each day at a time and keep going. You will reap the mental and physical benefits, as you move forward with a new spring in your step!
If you would like to seek help or learn more about improving your mental health through lifestyle changes, including exercise and diet, please get in touch with me, Dr Bunmi Aboaba, The Food Addiction Coach, by following this link.
 “More Evidence That Exercise Can Boost Mood – Harvard Health”. Harvard Health, 2019, https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/more-evidence-that-exercise-can-boost-mood.
 Ng, Qin Xiang et al. “Managing Childhood And Adolescent Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) With Exercise: A Systematic Review”. Complementary Therapies In Medicine, vol 34, 2017, pp. 123-128. Elsevier BV, doi:10.1016/j.ctim.2017.08.018. Accessed 4 Aug 2021.
 Kanning, M. & Schlicht, W. (2010). Be Active and Become Happy: An Ecological Momentary Assessment of Physical Activity and Mood. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 32 (2), 253–261.