Health & Wellness

Exercise may not be the first therapy you would choose to address mental illness, but it can have an enormous impact on symptoms.

Your mental health is a critical piece of your overall health, though it may not always get the attention it deserves.

When you are hungry, you eat, and you visit the doctor for a broken arm. Does your mental health take priority when it needs to?

In the United States, one in five adults will experience some form of mental illness each year. Exercise may not be the first therapy you would choose to address this illness, but it can have an enormous impact on symptoms.

Here are some ways exercise can improve your mental health:

Better self-esteem

Exercising can improve a person’s body image and self-esteem, both through better physical fitness and a person’s perceived fitness. Consistently working out can lower a person’s body mass index and improve overall physical health and abilities. A lower BMI has been linked to better body image, and exercise is more effective than general physical activity. Specifically, weight training and aerobic exercise have been shown to improve a person’s body image.

Improved symptoms of depression

People who exercise are less likely to be depressed, but that doesn’t mean that happy people are just more apt to exercise. Research has shown that exercise can not only help prevent depression, but it can be an effective treatment as well. One study found that exercising three days a week could improve symptoms and help prevent these symptoms returning if they kept up the exercise.

It can be very difficult for someone who is depressed to get started with exercise, but the workout can be beneficial once the routine is in place. Don’t hesitate to start exercising to improve your symptoms, but be sure to continue with whatever treatment your doctor recommends as well.

More positive social interaction

People with mental health disorders may shy away from social situations if they feel they are negative or unsatisfying. Exercise can help people get through these feelings and begin to enjoy being with others. Research has shown that even small amounts of exercise can improve a person’s perceptions of social situations. Rather than looking back on an interaction with negative feelings, a person is more likely to feel appreciation for the event.

Exercise has the dual benefit of helping people feel better about their dealings with others and providing an excuse to get together. Many exercises can be done with other people, including in classes and enjoying the outdoors with family or friends.

“Social interaction can be very important for mental health, even for someone who considers themself an introvert,” says Dan Bushnell, administrator at Gramercy Court Skilled Nursing and Assisted Living. “Participating in group exercise classes, whether in person or online in a socially distant setting, can provide a common bond and make it easier for people to socialize.”

Exercise is not the only way to improve your mental health, but it is a great tool for you to use. Talk to your doctor about the best way to address any mental health issues, and add exercise to your arsenal to help you stay fit physically and mentally.

Dr. Amy Osmond Cook is a health care technology consultant and VP of marketing at Simplus, a platinum Salesforce partner.

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