Ever wonder why people tend to suggest going for a walk, a run or hitting the gym to lift your spirits when you're feeling low? It's not just an old wives' tale. In fact, it's deeply rooted in science. Regular physical activity can help to reduce feelings of depression and anxiety, improve mood, boost self-esteem, and enhance overall mental health.
Regardless of your age or fitness level, studies confirm that engaging in physical activity stimulates chemicals in your brain—neurotransmitters, endorphins and endocannabinoids—that make you feel happier and relaxed. Actually, your workout performance can be directly related to your mood. This is due to the fact that when you work out, your brain experiences a surge of these feel-good neurotransmitters that elevate your mood and produce a euphoria-like feeling often referred to as the “runner’s high.”
Movement and physical activity also encourage your brain to function at its best by stimulating the growth of new brain cells and connections, similar to the brain benefits young children receive from play. This intricate relationship plays a key role in mood improvement and emotional wellbeing. The more you move, the better you feel. It’s as simple as that.
Physical activity may also give your mood a boost by improving your sleep. Regular activity can help you fall asleep more quickly, sleep more deeply, and wake feeling more energetic and refreshed.
On top of these mood-enhancing benefits, regular physical activity can even help you manage stress levels more effectively. It acts as a natural outlet for frustration, provides a sense of accomplishment, and gives you a break from the cycle of negative thoughts that can contribute to stress and anxiety.
So, it's not just about how physical activity makes your body feel good, but it’s also about how it makes your mind feel better. It becomes a protective shield against the adverse effects of stress, amplifies feelings of joy, and offers a well-deserved break for your busy mind. Physical activity is, undeniably, a powerful mood-improving strategy.
Such activities have additional benefits of exposure to natural outdoor environments, increased Vitamin D, social engagement and continuing a weekly routine for its mental and physical benefits can aid in alleviating various concerns including low mood and anxiety. Ahead of seasonal changes, building such habits may decrease symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) as we return to those long and cold months in Canada. See my past workshop recording on this topic for additional details.
Let's start by simplifying. Instead of going from zero to sixty in a matter of seconds, start with small, achievable goals. If you've been living a largely sedentary lifestyle, it's impractical and potentially harmful to suddenly start training like an Olympic athlete. Start with short, 10-minute walks around the block, and gradually increase the duration and intensity as you become more comfortable.
It's also important to find a form of physical activity that you truly enjoy. Not a fan of running? No problem. There are countless other options: swimming, cycling, dancing, yoga, rock climbing... the possibilities are endless. When you are engaged in an activity you enjoy, it is much easier to stick with it.
Establishing a routine can also greatly improve consistency. Try to schedule your workouts at the same time each day – this way, they'll quickly become a non-negotiable part of your routine, just like brushing your teeth or eating breakfast. Make sure to factor in some flexibility, to accommodate for life's inevitable surprises.
Finally, don't forget the power of accountability. Enlist a workout buddy, hire a personal trainer, or simply share your goals with friends and family. Knowing others are supporting and cheering for you can provide an incredible boost of motivation and help keep you on track.
Remember, consistency is the key to unlocking the mood-boosting benefits of regular physical activity. So, why not start now? Your mind and body will thank you.
"Movement is a medicine for creating change in a person's physical, emotional, and mental states." - Carol Welch
Embracing regular physical activity and movement emerges as a powerful elixir for overall well-being. From simple walks to more vigorous exercises, the benefits extend beyond physical health, positively impacting mood, sleep, and cardiovascular health. The enchantment lies in the release of endorphins, acting as natural mood lifters. This routine not only reduces the risk of depression but also enhances creativity and productivity. Engaging in movement-based activities, such as yoga, hiking, or running, offers exposure to nature and social engagement. Establishing these habits prior to seasonal changes helps alleviate symptoms like those associated with seasonal affective disorder. To sustain this positive momentum, maintaining a routine, seeking social support, and even consulting professionals contribute to a holistic approach to recovery through movement.