Without a doubt, 2020 was a hard year to deal with for everyone around the world. Fortunately, one of the most challenging years in recent history has ended and we’re inching closer and closer to going back to normal, with the rollout of various vaccines around the world. But it’s inevitable for us to face bumps in the road, whether as individuals or as a society, which is why it’s important to maintain mental fortitude as we continue to confront the COVID-19 pandemic.
Whatever walk of life we’re from, it’s certain that we were affected by the pandemic, in one way or another. The weeks, even months, stuck in quarantine, and the widespread loss caused by the virus will take its toll on anyone’s mental health.
Now, more than ever, it’s important to be aware of our own mental health and to take care of it in the same way that we would our physical health. If we’re going to survive and use this new year to grow as individuals, our mental health should be at the forefront.
There should be no shame in seeking help for our mental health. Many people seek therapy and counseling to help them confront mental problems, and it’s often a huge step forward for them. There are also ways to take care of your mental health by yourself, such as through self-care, meditation, and of course, exercise.
Physical Activity and Mental Health
Many people view exercise as a means to get their dream body, for them to become stronger and quicker, or for them to become better athletes. While all of that is true, there is also much to be said about the benefits of regular physical activity to our mental health.
First of all, through daily exercise, we achieve healthier, and more aesthetically pleasing, bodies. Seeing results alone can already provide a huge boost to someone’s self-esteem, but there’s so much more to it than that.
Physical activity can improve one’s mood. Exercise increases serotonin levels, a key hormone in the stabilization of our mood, in our body. It also increases endorphins, which function as mood lifters. There have also been findings that show that exercise can alleviate the symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Furthermore, regular physical activity can also have a profound effect on our stress levels. Nowadays, it’s rare to find stress-free days, but we can relieve ourselves from stress, or at least give ourselves the capacity to handle it better, through exercise. Apart from amplifying your endorphins, it can also reduce the negative effects of stress through replicating the effects of stress, like the fight or flight response. This helps the systems in your body and your body itself work on functioning together in order to handle these effects, not to mention that the benefits to your, cardiovascular, immune, and digestive systems can also help protect your body against stress.
Another great thing is that there’s no definite best way to exercise for the improvement of your mental health. As long as you’re getting any physical activity in, you will be seeing results. However, it’s advised that you get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week, or if you like to work out more intensely, you can get at least 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity weekly.
Following the prescribed amount of time that you should exercise each week, you’re free to develop your own regime based on your own physical goals. There is a wide selection of exercises that you could do based on your preferences, your body type, your goals, and the time that you can allot per week.
The choice is yours if you want to exercise to improve your athleticism while boosting your mental health, or if you just want a physical activity that will help you unwind and let go of all the stress momentarily. What matters is that you put the time in. These are the best exercises you can do to improve your mental health:
1. HIIT Workouts
HIIT, or high-intensity interval training, is a great workout to fit into a busy schedule. In HIIT, you’re basically pushing your body to perform at its highest possible level in the least amount of time. Workouts consist of intense, extreme, and repeated movements with periods of recovery in between.
These types of workouts will definitely push your body to its limits, and can is an excellent cardio workout. It can also increase your explosiveness which makes HIIT ideal for athletes. Exercises included in HIIT workouts are often centered on dynamic movements such as push-ups, squats, or kettlebell swings, which will get your heart racing in no time.
Aside from being a great cardio exercise, it can also help in losing weight, and you can do it practically anywhere. Furthermore, HIIT is a vigorous exercise that can help increase levels of the neurotransmitters glutamate and GABA. Low levels of these neurotransmitters are linked to major depressive disorders. It can also further improve mood regulation by boosting BDNF, a protein that, in low levels, is associated with mental health issues such as depression and schizophrenia.
2. Running or Walking
A great workout which virtually anyone of us can do every day, especially now that restrictions are more lenient, is running or walking. While some of us may take walking for granted, it can actually benefit us by keeping us mobile. Taking a walk or a run is also a great way to unwind for a while and let go of whatever is on your mind. It’s also the perfect time to listen to your favorite artist’s new album, or catch up on your favorite podcast.
Running or walking can help you burn those extra calories, and these calories may continue to burn even after you’ve finished exercising since running or walking can boost afterburn. Studies have also shown that exercise for at least 30 minutes, five times per week, can help you live longer.
If you need something to pick your mood up, you can go for a quick run which will help release chemicals in your body that can alleviate anxiety and make you feel better overall. If you think you don’t have the energy for a run, you can opt to walk just to keep yourself physically active, which will reduce your risk of depression, and can help you recover if you’re suffering from it.
Strengthening your core is something you can never neglect if you aspire to be physically fit and healthy. Not only will Pilates help you achieve that elusive toned abdomen, but it can also promote weight loss, increase energy, improve your posture, and develop your flexibility.
You also don’t need much equipment in Pilates, as most exercises revolve around your bodyweight and will holistically develop your overall strength and disposition.
It’s a popular way to help you cope with stress as exercises such as those involved in Pilates can decrease stress hormones, and help you manage stress better. It can also help you sharpen your mind as Pilates requires you to use both your body and mind at the same time since there is a wide variety of exercises and modifications to learn.
If you want to stay physically active without having to tire yourself out every time you exercise, yoga is perfect for you. It’s not as physically intense as the other exercises mentioned here, but it still delivers results.
When doing yoga, you’re able to develop your physical strength and flexibility, and you also soothe your mind and relax. This is great for promoting relaxation, alleviating anxiety, fighting depression, and overall improving your quality of life. A few minutes of yoga every day can go a long way.
5. Spin Biking or Cycling
Cycling isn’t just reserved for adrenaline enthusiasts who bike their legs off on rough roads or across the country. Even a little stroll around the neighborhood is a great way to get some light exercise and fresh air. If you’re more inclined to stay home and watch your favorite TV show while exercising, a spin bike will do the trick.
These exercises are great in helping improve cardiovascular health, develop strength and flexibility, and enhance your posture and coordination. While cycling or spin biking, you can set your mind free momentarily and just focus on getting the wheels going. Much like running, there’s also a “cycling high” which can provide an immediate mood boost. It has also been shown that these exercises can help you enhance your memory, boost creative thinking, and improve your sleep.
Losing yourself to dance is already a euphoric feeling in itself, but it is also a superb exercise for both your physical and mental health.
Regardless of your age, shape, or size, dancing is an effective way to stay fit and develop your aerobic fitness. It can also aid in improving your muscle tone and overall coordination. Expressing yourself through dance can also work wonders in improving your mood and relieving yourself of stress, and the social aspect involved in most forms of dance can help you create bonds and friendships which are invaluable when it comes to your mental well-being.