You have probably heard time and time again that exercise is beneficial for your mental health.
It’s true. We’ve written before about how regular exercise can help manage depression symptoms, boost overall mood, reduce cognitive issues, and alleviate anxiety and stress, along with many other mental benefits of exercise.
This is because physical activity directly affects the brain. Exercise increases blood circulation and the production of Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), a protein found in parts of the brain that aids in thinking, memory, and learning, all of which may help provide relief for mental illness.
While most people think exercise = running, there are many other options to get the heart pumping. The four kinds of exercise are cardiovascular, strength training, balance and flexibility.
And within those categories there are even more options. There’s yoga and pilates. There’s basketball, cycling, dancing, weight training, bowling, gymnastics, golf, boxing, swimming, barre, and so much more. So which one is best for mental health?
Finding the Right Exercise for Mental Health
A study published in Lancet Psychiatry explored which forms of exercise best improve mental health. In the study, researchers conducted a survey that asked respondents to list what activity they participated in along with how many “not good” mental health days they experienced in the past month.
While the researchers found that all types of exercise were beneficial for mental health, team sports had the best percentage for the least amount of bad mental health days. Sports such as basketball, soccer, baseball, and volleyball can be beneficial to mental health, because they not only involve physical activity, but also lead to social opportunities. Forming friendships through hobbies has been known to help with depression and ease social anxiety.
Exercises for Individuals
Team sports not for you? The study found the following exercises that can be done on an individual basis beneficial for mental health:
- Yoga – According to the American Psychological Association, yoga helps with relaxation and easing stress. Eliminating high stress levels is beneficial for those who have uncontrollable negative thoughts, which is common in mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD.
- Cycling – Using motor skills such as biking may help keep white matter in the brain healthy, allowing thinking processes to run smoothly. Research has found that both healthy individuals and individuals suffering from schizophrenia who exercised on stationary bikes had increased white matter integrity by the end of a six-month period, which may contribute to easing symptoms such as impaired motor coordination and disorganized mental imagery.
- Running – A documentary photographer, Martin Eberleen, found running to be the right exercise for him after he was diagnosed with ADHD. He explained to BBC News: “Running helps me control my thoughts, it slows me down, and gives me the opportunity to focus on the things I need to focus on.” Additionally, a study in Frontiers Psychology Journal found that running can help control manic symptoms for those with bipolar disorder. The rhythm established by the runner’s pace provides a calming effect, which helps facilitate mood regulation.
- Aerobic or gym exercise – The Lancet Psychiatry study found that high-intensity aerobic exercise helped promote good mental health. Examples of this type of exercise include using the stair master and elliptical machines.
Do What’s Best for You
If you’re interested in using exercise to improve your mental health, this list of activities can serve as a good place to start when figuring out what type of exercise best suits your lifestyle and mentality.
However, everyone has different interests and needs, so don’t feel limited to these options or discouraged if an activity doesn’t meet your expectations. It may take some time to find the right fit, but your mental health is worth it.
The key to remember is to do what is most enjoyable for YOU. You got this!
* Please consult with your healthcare provider prior to starting an exercise program.