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Exercise Benefits Beyond the Gym

We all know working out can benefit us physically, but what is often overlooked is just how powerful exercise is for your mental health.

We talked to the general manager at McConnell Heart Health Center, Amy Kleski, M.A., about how exercise can benefit your mental health by improving your mood, reducing stress and easing symptoms of major depression. Kleski also explains how to get those feel-good chemicals flowing.

Mental Benefits

Research shows that adding exercise to your everyday routine works not only to help you live longer but to also live happier. Exercise benefits both the body and mind and is one of the simplest things you can do to improve your mental health.

“Exercise, when we are just looking at the mental benefits, there is an overall sense of well-being,” says Kleski.

Not only will exercise lower body fat and help you achieve better heart health, but you’ll start to feel happier, calmer and more alert.

While you exercise, you can look forward to improving your mental health by increasing energy and mental alertness, reducing tiredness and stress, improving quality sleep and your overall mood.

These benefits stay with you long after your gym visit.

What kind of exercises should I do?

While any exercise will help to reap the mental rewards of exercise, studies show that aerobic activities such as swimming, dancing and running are best for achieving the psychological benefits of exercise. However, you shouldn’t overlook strength or stretching exercises.

Exercises such as yoga prove to be beneficial to your mental health as well. With yoga, you are practicing mindfulness, which helps to ease anxiety and stress and encourages you to be present in the moment.

Whether you do aerobic, strength or stretching exercises, there is a sense of accomplishment when you finish. Kleski explains, “after you exercise, you feel accomplished because you set a goal and completed it, walking away with that exercise high of feel-good endorphins reducing stress and lifting your mood.”

How much should I exercise? How often?

The general rule is about 30 minutes of brisk exercise three to five days a week to get the mental benefits of exercise.

If you don’t have time for a full workout session, Kleski says not to worry, research shows three 10-minute walks are just as effective as one 30 minute walk. Doing as little as 10 minutes a day can give you a mental break from the day-to-day routine. Set a timer at your desk; once it goes off, take a lap around your office.

Kleski says, the more you exercise, the more it becomes a part of your everyday routine, like brushing your teeth or taking a shower. The key is doing regular physical activity to get the mental benefits.

“Some studies say that it takes 21 days to form a habit,” says Kleski, “Once you have a consistent pattern, you’ll start to feel the benefits both mentally and physically.”

Exercise with a friend

Kleski encourages everyone to find someone to exercise with, preferably on the same journey. This will help to give you some encouragement while you’re exercising towards better mental health.

Having an exercise buddy could also create a sense of accountability. This carries a “where have you been” aspect if you skip a class, helping you to stay motivated.

Looking to find your perfect workout? We have some tips for you!