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Exercise to Improve Mental Health

Mental health is a KEY piece in creating an overall healthy life. Today’s wellness tip is to incorporate exercise into your routine in order to reduce stress and cortisol levels which will improve both your physical and mental health.

Throughout May, I will be brining you mental health tips as part of Mental Health Awareness Month. I strongly believe that when we take care of our mental health it is much easier, and more likely, that we can take care of our physical health. It is often an overlooked piece in health.  

Tuned In Today is all about tuning in to what matters in your life. Paying attention to how things make you feel and how they affect you. Making choices in your life that support the life you want to live and not staying stuck in negative patterns. In essence, taking care of you emotional and mental health so that you can pursue your passions.

Since I made the decision to quit my job and remove the influence of a toxic co-worker and toxic work situations from my life, my mental health and well-being have improved tremendously. Going through this experience is one reason why I believe so strongly in taking care of our mental health and emotions.  

As a pharmacist, I always struggled with the fact that disease is treated without addressing how mental health interplays with physical health. For example, trying to encourage patients to make lifestyle changes around nutrition, exercise, alcohol, cigarettes, or screen time without addressing the thoughts, emotions, and reasons behind the things that we do. Without addressing the full picture, it is nearly impossible to make sustainable changes. In order to change our behaviors we have to address the the underlying thought process that pushes us towards those things. 

So, throughout May, I will be brining you various tips on taking care of your mental health. To kick it off, today we are talking about incorporating exercise into your routine to reduce stress and improve mental health. Of course exercise has MANY other health benefits as well!

Exercise Reduces Stress and Cortisol

biking in the fall

Exercise is an effective way to reduce stress and the stress hormone cortisol. 

Cortisol, one of the flight or fight hormones, is there to help us during times of immediate stress or danger. If your body is under chronic stress and constantly under the influence of cortisol, it can wreak havoc on your body. There are many things in our society that cause chronic stress and lead to chronically high levels of cortisol. To improve our health, we need to reduce our stress, which will lower cortisol levels. Exercise is a key way to do this.

Cortisol causes:
  • High blood sugar, diabetes, and worsens existing diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Inflammation throughout the body
  • Weakened immune system
  • Insomnia
  • Slowed digestion
By exercising, lowering our stress, and reducing coritsol we are making these positive changes in our bodies:
  • Lower blood pressure 
  • Improved immune function
  • Lower blood sugar
  • Reduced inflammation
  • Better sleep
  • Better digestion
In addition, exercise:
  • Improves heart and lung health 
  • Produces endorphins, the feel good hormones
  • Improves mood
  • Reduces depression and anxiety
  • Increases energy and optimism 
  • Improves blood flow to help flush toxins and stress hormones like cortisol from your body
  • Provides time to clear your mind
  • Improves sleep

Type & Amount of Exercise

The type of exercise that you do doesn’t really matter. It’s just important to get up and get moving. Walking, jogging, bike rides, basketball, swimming, crossfit, weightlifting, hikes, running, playing tag with the kids, kayaking, jump rope, yard work, intense house cleaning, tennis, dancing, roller blading, this list is endless. The key is to find actives that you enjoy. 

outdoor exercise kayak at lake

If you are excercising outside you will also get the benefits from nature. Many people find nature to be a natural stress reliever. You will get Vitamin D from the sun and breath fresh air into your lungs.

The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of excessive per week. That translates to 30 minutes, 5 days per week. They also recommend that two of those workouts each week include some type of muscle strengthening or weight training. 

It is also important to note, that exercising too much can also be a problem. Our bodies need time to rest and recover from exercise. Long, extreme workouts can stress your body and increase cortisol instead of lowering it. Be sure to include adequate recovery time if you are an intense athlete. 

Get some exercise today and see how much better you feel afterwards. If you are looking for more information on mental health, subscribe to my blog to get e-mail notifications when my weekly wellness tips come out. You can also visit Mental Health America (MHA) at www.mhanational.org

If you are concerned about your own mental health, you can take a free screening test provided by MHA.

Drop me a comment…. What are your favorite exercise activities?

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