The Benefits of Exercise for Your Mental Health

I recently was invited to speak on a panel with one of the largest Bank’s employees on the benefits of exercise to your mental health. What an honour! Here are some snipped from the panel and discussion together. I hope you may benefit from it, too ๐Ÿ™‚

As a former elite level athlete and professional coach, I am a big advocate of exercise. As a mental health professional and Approved Clinical Supervisor teaching graduate students and licensed therapists, I believe in the benefits of exercise for your mental health, and the research that supports it! As a mom of four kids who are active and in sports, I see how exercise and sport is a microcosm of life teaching so many great life lessons, teamwork, work-ethic, all while getting out the day’s stressors, processing through emotions, and having FUN!

With my unique background as an athlete and coach, and credentials as a Registered Clinical Counsellor and Approved Clinical Supervisor, one of the funnest things I get to do is travel around the world and speak on the importance of and correlation between physical health and mental health. Boiled down, exercise is incredibly beneficial to your mental health! In fact it is my go to stress relieve. I put on music and go on my runs to be present and process whatever I am going through, all while getting feel good endorphins!

I recently was invited to speak on a panel with one of the largest Bank’s employees on the benefits of exercise to your mental health. What an honour! Here are some snipped from the panel and discussion together. I hope you may benefit from it, too ๐Ÿ™‚

And If this resonates and you would like to connect with use to improve your mental health, please reach out today! We have In Person Counselling in Kelowna, British Columbia, Online Counselling throughout British Columbia, Coaching Online, and Walk and Talk Therapy in Kelowna, British Columbia.

1. What are some of the major benefits of exercise to oneโ€™s mental health?

Exercise offers numerous mental health benefits, including:

  1. Reduction of Stress: Exercise can help alleviate stress by reducing the body’s stress hormones, such as cortisol, and releasing endorphins, which act as natural painkillers and mood elevators.
  2. Improvement in Mood: Physical activity stimulates various brain chemicals that may leave you feeling happier, more relaxed, and less anxious. Regular exercise can also help alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety.
  3. Boost in Self-Esteem: Regular exercise can improve your self-esteem and confidence as you achieve fitness goals, feel better about your appearance, and experience a sense of accomplishment.
  4. Better Sleep: Exercise can promote better sleep by helping you fall asleep faster and enjoy deeper sleep. However, it’s important not to exercise too close to bedtime, as it may interfere with sleep.
  5. Increased Brain Health and Cognitive Function: Physical activity can enhance cognitive function, improve memory, and protect against cognitive decline as you age. It increases blood flow to the brain and stimulates the growth of new brain cells.
  6. Stress Management: Engaging in physical activity provides a healthy outlet for managing and coping with stress. Whether it’s going for a run, practicing yoga, or playing a sport, exercise can distract you from daily worries and help clear your mind.
  7. Social Interaction: Many forms of exercise involve social interaction, whether it’s joining a sports team, attending group fitness classes, or exercising with friends. Socializing during exercise can boost mood and reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation.
  8. Sense of Purpose and Routine: Incorporating regular exercise into your routine can provide structure and a sense of purpose, which can be particularly beneficial during challenging times or when dealing with mental health issues.

Overall, regular physical activity is not only essential for physical health but also plays a significant role in maintaining and improving mental well-being.

2. How much/little exercise do we need to see mental health benefits?

    The amount of exercise needed to see mental health benefits can vary depending on individual factors such as age, fitness level, and health status. However, general guidelines recommend:

    1. Aerobic Exercise: Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week. This could include activities such as brisk walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, or dancing.
    2. Strength Training: Incorporate strength training exercises for all major muscle groups at least two days per week. This could involve lifting weights, using resistance bands, or doing bodyweight exercises like push-ups and squats.
    3. Flexibility and Balance: Include flexibility and balance exercises in your routine, such as yoga or tai chi, to improve mobility, posture, and coordination.

    It’s important to note that even small amounts of physical activity can offer mental health benefits. If you’re currently inactive, start with small, manageable goals and gradually increase the duration and intensity of your exercise as you build endurance and confidence.

    Consistency is key. Aim for regular exercise sessions throughout the week rather than trying to cram all your activity into one or two days. Additionally, finding activities you enjoy can make it easier to stick with an exercise routine in the long term.

    Ultimately, any amount of exercise is better than none when it comes to improving mental health. Listen to your body, set realistic goals, and be kind to yourself throughout your fitness journey.

    3. Many days the hardest part of exercise is just the start of the actual activity, let alone for those who are newer to exercise or those restarting their routines.ย 

      What are some common ways youโ€™ve seen your clients overcome the challenges of starting an exercise/movement regime?

      Starting an exercise or movement regime can be challenging, but there are several strategies that clients commonly use to overcome these challenges:

      1. Setting realistic goals: Breaking down larger fitness goals into smaller, achievable milestones can make them feel more manageable and help maintain motivation.
      2. Finding enjoyable activities: Clients often find success when they choose physical activities they genuinely enjoy. Whether it’s dancing, hiking, swimming, or martial arts, finding something fun makes it easier to stick with the routine.
      3. Creating a schedule: Planning specific times for exercise helps integrate it into daily life and prevents procrastination. Some clients prefer morning workouts to kickstart their day, while others find evening sessions a great way to de-stress after work.
      4. Starting slowly and gradually increasing intensity: Jumping into a rigorous exercise routine can lead to burnout or injury. Clients often start with shorter, less intense sessions and gradually increase duration and intensity as their fitness improves.
      5. Finding social support: Joining group classes, exercising with friends or family, or even hiring a personal trainer can provide accountability and encouragement.
      6. Tracking progress: Keeping a workout journal, using fitness apps, or wearing activity trackers can help clients monitor their progress, celebrate achievements, and stay motivated.
      7. Being flexible and adapting: Life can be unpredictable, so being flexible with exercise plans is crucial. If a scheduled workout doesn’t happen, finding alternative ways to stay active ensures consistency.
      8. Focusing on the benefits beyond weight loss: While weight loss is a common goal, emphasizing other benefits like increased energy, improved mood, better sleep, and reduced stress can provide additional motivation to stick with an exercise routine.
      9. Addressing barriers: Identifying and addressing potential barriers such as lack of time, injury, or financial constraints early on helps clients develop strategies to overcome them.
      10. Celebrating victories: Acknowledging and celebrating even small achievements along the way boosts confidence and reinforces the habit of regular exercise.

      By incorporating these strategies, clients can overcome the initial challenges of starting an exercise regime and establish a sustainable, fulfilling fitness routine.

      4. We talked earlier about the benefits of exercise on mental health and on the flip side, many folks facing mental health challenges find their mental health impacts their exercise routine.

        How does our mental state impact whether we want to exercise?

        Our mental state plays a significant role in our motivation and desire to exercise. Several factors influence how we feel about physical activity:

        1. Mood: Our mood can greatly influence our motivation to exercise. When we’re feeling positive and energized, we’re more likely to want to engage in physical activity. Conversely, when we’re feeling down or stressed, the motivation to exercise may decrease.
        2. Stress levels: High levels of stress can either motivate us to exercise as a way to relieve tension or can act as a barrier, making exercise feel overwhelming or unappealing. Managing stress through exercise can create a positive feedback loop, as physical activity releases endorphins that help alleviate stress.
        3. Self-confidence: Our perception of our own abilities and self-image can impact whether we feel motivated to exercise. Positive self-talk and a sense of self-efficacy can boost motivation, while negative self-perceptions may lead to feelings of inadequacy or reluctance to exercise.
        4. Body image: How we feel about our bodies can influence our motivation to exercise. People who have a positive body image may be motivated to exercise for enjoyment and health benefits, while those with negative body image may feel pressured to exercise for appearance-related reasons or may avoid exercise altogether due to fear of judgment.
        5. Motivation and goals: Having clear, meaningful goals can enhance motivation to exercise. Whether it’s improving fitness, managing weight, or enhancing overall well-being, having a purpose for exercise can increase commitment and adherence to a routine.
        6. Social support: The presence of supportive friends, family members, or exercise partners can positively impact our motivation to exercise. Exercising with others provides accountability, encouragement, and social interaction, which can make physical activity more enjoyable and rewarding.
        7. Mindset and beliefs: Our beliefs about exercise, such as whether we perceive it as enjoyable or as a chore, influence our motivation to engage in physical activity. Cultivating a positive mindset and reframing exercise as something enjoyable and beneficial can increase motivation.

        Overall, our mental state plays a crucial role in shaping our attitudes and motivations toward exercise. Developing strategies to cultivate a positive mindset, manage stress, set meaningful goals, and seek social support can enhance our desire to engage in physical activity and lead to a more consistent and enjoyable exercise routine.

        5. Are there any harmful mindsets or behaviors folks should look out for in themselves around an exercise routine?

        Highlighting: obsessive behavior, maintaining healthy relationship with exercise

            Absolutely, maintaining a healthy relationship with exercise is essential for both physical and mental well-being. Here are some harmful mindsets and behaviors to watch out for:

            1. Obsessive exercise behavior: When exercise becomes an obsession, it can lead to overtraining, burnout, and even injury. Signs of obsessive exercise behavior include exercising despite injury or illness, feeling guilty or anxious when unable to exercise, and prioritizing exercise over other important aspects of life.
            2. Exercise addiction: Similar to obsessive behavior, exercise addiction involves an unhealthy dependence on exercise that interferes with daily life. Individuals with exercise addiction may experience withdrawal symptoms when unable to exercise, neglect responsibilities to prioritize workouts, and continue exercising despite physical or emotional harm.
            3. Negative body image: Using exercise solely as a means to change one’s appearance or achieve an unrealistic body ideal can lead to negative body image and disordered eating patterns. It’s important to focus on the health benefits of exercise rather than using it as punishment for perceived flaws.
            4. Comparison mindset: Constantly comparing oneself to others in terms of fitness level, appearance, or performance can undermine self-confidence and motivation. It’s important to remember that everyone’s fitness journey is unique, and progress should be measured against personal goals rather than external standards.
            5. Perfectionism: Striving for perfection in exercise can lead to frustration, burnout, and injury. It’s important to embrace progress over perfection and celebrate small victories along the way.
            6. Ignoring pain or discomfort: Pushing through pain or discomfort during exercise without addressing the underlying cause can lead to injury and long-term damage. It’s essential to listen to your body and seek professional guidance if experiencing persistent pain or discomfort.
            7. Exercising to cope with emotional distress: While exercise can be a healthy way to manage stress and improve mood, relying solely on exercise to cope with emotional distress can be problematic. It’s important to cultivate a range of coping strategies and seek support from friends, family, or mental health professionals when needed.
            8. Overemphasis on external validation: Seeking validation or approval from others based on exercise habits or physical appearance can lead to a constant need for external affirmation and undermine intrinsic motivation. It’s important to exercise for personal enjoyment and health rather than seeking validation from others.

            Overall, maintaining a healthy relationship with exercise involves listening to your body, setting realistic goals, prioritizing balance and moderation, and being mindful of the motivations behind your exercise habits. If you notice any harmful mindsets or behaviors in yourself, seeking support from a trusted friend, family member, or healthcare professional can be beneficial in addressing them.

            If this resonates and you would like to connect with use to improve your mental health, please reach out today! We have In Person Counselling in Kelowna, British Columbia, Online Counselling throughout British Columbia, Coaching Online, and Walk and Talk Therapy in Kelowna, British Columbia.

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