In today’s world, one of the most important components of health is our mental health. Dealing with Covid-19 and the lockdowns in 2020 not only affected the entire population physically, but also mentally as well. So what is mental health? According to, “Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices”. Studies show that one of the best therapies for any type of mental health disorder is exercise. Whether it’s anxiety, depression, PTSD or any psychiatric disorder, exercise has shown to be just as effective as medication. I personally suffer from anxiety and OCD, and the two most important part of the coping process are medication and exercise. 

In 2019, a study conducted at the Harvard University School of Health found that a regular exercise program greatly reduces the risk of developing depression and anxiety. When we think of exercise, we don’t necessarily mean weight lifting. Exercise is any movement that causes our metabolic rate to increase as well as physical adaptations. Exercise can include walking, running, yoga, or any other type of physical activity where improvements can be made. Whenever we exercise, we tend to feel good after. The reason for that is due to an increase in endorphins. Endorphins are the pleasurable, feel-good receptors our body releases whenever we perform physical activity. This can greatly improve feelings of anxiety and depression. Whenever we exercise, we can forget about all of our worries and fears and just focus on the exercise itself. 

Stress can make it very hard to want to go into a gym to work out, but this is one of the best therapeutic exercises for any type of mental health disorder. There are two types of stress: eustress and distress. Eustress is positive stress that helps motivate us on a daily basis. Distress, on the other hand, is negative stress that carries feelings of anxiety and worry. Exercise will not only help increase our eustress, but also decrease our distress as well by improving our mood and the way we think. 

Dopamine and Serotonin are two other chemicals in our brains that affect the way we think. Exercise has shown to increase both of these, leading to more positive thoughts throughout the day and lower levels of stress and anxiety. Exercise feels good at the end because we feel accomplished. Whether it’s a rigorous leg workout or completing a mile on the treadmill in record time, we gain that feeling of accomplishment. Those feel-good emotions could be just what we need to get us through our day and on to a better, healthier lifestyle. 

Now you may be thinking, how much should I exercise to see results. The answer is that any form of exercise will lead to positive results. According to health experts, a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise should be performed each week to see desired changes. Everyone’s body is different, so always consult with your physician before any type of exercise routine. 

Exercise is one of the hardest things to stick with. Exercise can be hard and challenging. After the first couple of weeks, you may feel that this is the most difficult thing you have ever done. The benefits of exercise, however, outweigh the negatives. Exercise will boost your mood, give that accomplished feeling and will help relieve anxiety and depression. Always let your trainer know that you are dealing with mental health issues so that they can develop a plan that will be right for you. I have struggled with mental health issues for the last 12 years, and exercise has been the one therapy where I can relax and forget about the stresses I deal with on a daily basis. So, let’s get out there and just as the late great Muhammad Ali once said, “I hate every minute of training, but I said don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.”

UFit Trainer, Matt Ryan