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How exercise helps mental health

May 13, 2024—You've probably heard that exercising is good for you. But what you may not know is that along with the physical benefits, exercise can also improve your mental health.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), regular aerobic exercise can lower feelings of stress and tension, improve and stabilize mood, increase self-esteem, and even help you sleep better.

Simply put: If your body feels better, so does your mind. The best part? It can take as little as five minutes of activity to start to see these benefits, says the ADAA. And the effects may last for hours.

How it works

When you exercise, your brain produces endorphins, chemicals that help stabilize mood and alleviate pain. This can help you feel better right away.

Regular exercise also offers long-term benefits—it can improve your mental well-being over time by helping you cope with stress, according to the ADAA.

Exercise can also raise your serotonin and dopamine levels, chemicals that play a key role in your mood, according to AARP. And because it can help you get better sleep, exercise can reduce fatigue—a common symptom of depression.

Most studies show that moderate to high levels of exercise provide the most benefit. But you don't need to be an expert in the gym. The benefits come with being regularly active, not with hitting a high level of fitness, according to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).

Make it work for you

To maximize the mood boost, consider these tips from the ADAA, the American Council on Exercise (ACE), the American Heart Association and the ACSM.

  • Start small. Set daily goals and aim for consistency rather than perfection. Low on time? Try these 10-minute fitness breaks.
  • Find what's fun for you. Exercise doesn't have to be boring to be beneficial. Consider taking a dance class or going on a nature walk.
  • Recruit your friends. It'll help with accountability and provide a chance to be social.
  • Keep your needs in mind. Different types of activity may provide different benefits. For example, yoga may be more beneficial if you want to feel soothed and relaxed, while cardio may be more energizing.
  • Be patient. If you're just starting to get active, it may take four to eight weeks to feel confident in your routine.
  • Don't give up! If you're struggling, try to find new ways to stay motivated.
If you're starting a new fitness routine, it's a good idea to talk it over with your doctor first. They can help you choose goals and activities that are right for you.

You're not alone

If you're worried about your mental health, talk to your provider. They can discuss your treatment options. Not sure how to start the conversation? Check out these tips.


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