Here’s what legendary fitness aficionado Arnold Schwarzenegger has to say about exercise and mental health:
“Training gives us an outlet for suppressed energies created by stress and thus tones the spirit just as exercise conditions the body.”
Much of the fitness world prioritizes exercise’s benefits for the body. While this is natural and healthy to an extent, the benefits of exercise have a much farther reach.
Exercise tones our minds and moods. Through exercise, we gain a greater sense of mental strength and stamina while benefiting our brains on a cellular level.
Arnold Schwarzenneger is right about how exercise tones the spirit. So how can we begin exercising to improve our spirit and mental health?
Begin by doing the exercise you know and love
Arnold Schwarzenneger chose to merge exercise and mental health through his bodybuilding practice. It’s the ultimate form of movement for him. It’s what he knows and loves and uses for not only his body but for his mentality as well. Weight lifting isn’t the only beneficial exercise for our mental health, however.
You don’t have to go for a specific type of exercise because other people are doing it. What form of movement to you ultimately love?
It can be a sport like soccer, tennis, track, swimming, or even surfing. Maybe your goal is to get into nature more. In that case, you’d benefit from exercises such as hiking, trail running, or even mountain biking.
Exercise and mental health is very much about enjoying the exercise you do. And you don’t have to choose only one form of exercise. For example, maybe you choose to do yoga for 15 minutes each morning on weekdays and then go for a surf on the weekend. There are many ways to enjoy exercise in order to tone the spirit.
So, more specifically, how do exercise and mental health go hand in hand?
Understanding how exercise maximizes brain health, mood, and sense of purpose
Recently, I sat near my mother on her hospital bed. She had just undergone a minor procedure and was in recovery. The nurse came in and began wrapping some interesting looking devices around her legs. She noticed my curious look and let me know that the devices were to prevent blood-clotting. She explained that blood-clotting can occur from sitting or lying down for too long. It suddenly hit me how inherently necessary movement is for us.
It makes sense that our need for exercise is hard-wired in our DNA. Think about our ancestors. They were hunter-gatherers—always on the move and exerting themselves physically for though hunting and so forth. When pondering this idea, it comes as no surprise that exercise benefits our brains by activating neurogenesis, or more simply, the growth of new neurons in the brain.
But why does this happen and what does it have to do with the connection between exercise and mental health?
Our ancestors exercised in order to catch food and protect themselves from danger. The boost in brain-power likely developed over the ages to give humans an extra edge over hunting and fleeing from predators. This makes sense when considering the powerful effects of neurogenesis, including increased learning, memory, and mood.
How can this all translate into a deeper sense of wellness and purpose? Other than the fact that neurogenesis reduces depression and anxiety, having a sharper brain translates into motivation to strive for our life objectives. Just as our ancestors increased their chance of survival from exercise, in the modern world we can use exercise to increase the chances of achieving our highest aspirations.
Creating good habits surrounding exercise and mental health
Exercising to obtain optimal mental health takes consistency. Setting reachable goals and routines will help.
Exercise at the same time each morning
Morning is a great time to exercise. Experiencing the early morning while running, walking, or doing yoga will produce a noticeable increase in mood and motivation for the rest of the day.
Exercising in the morning will also aid you in creating a good workout habit. This is because exercising first thing in the morning will ensure that you actually end up doing it. Making it a part of a morning routine will hold you accountable for getting it done.
The exercise you choose doesn’t have to be vigorous each morning. Maybe some mornings you want to go running and others to the gym or simply walking. It’s good to alternate between different forms of exercise— just be sure to do it in the morning to develop a sound routine.
Change the way you think about exercise
I’ll start by saying there’s nothing wrong with wanting a good body. Yet if we want to use exercise to improve our mental health, it’s important to adjust our intentions accordingly. For example— why do we work out for a good body? Is it because we think we don’t look good enough?
Exercise isn’t about punishing our bodies. Exercise is about loving our bodies. Though working out will give us more fit-looking bodies, there are other reasons to get moving. Many will agree that these reasons are more important. For example, improving our brain health, and thus our mental health (the premise of this article), is an important reason to exercise.
Use these techniques to make exercise fun
Exercise can be a fun activity if we allow it to be. Here are some ways to make exercise more fun.
1. Workout with friends. This idea merges the mental health benefits of exercise and being social. With friends, it’s nice to go running, weight-lifting at the gym, take a fitness class or practice a sport together.
2. Track your progress. Noticing progress within a type of exercise can make it more fun. Maybe you aim to run that extra block or lift a certain amount of weight. Perhaps you set specific goals within a sport or yoga practice. Just be sure not to overemphasize the goal and destination. Remember to remain focused on the reason for exercising in the first place—to improve mental health!
3. Stay motivated yet don’t be hard on yourself. Exercise isn’t about perfection, but consistency. Exercise and mental health complement each other because exercising improves mental health while good mental health will make you motivated to exercise.
In all, exercise tones our mental health by benefiting the brain on a cellular level, yes, but also by giving us an outlet for “suppressed energies” as Arnold Schwarzenneger coins it. By doing the exercises we love and by understanding how they benefit our brains, we’ll increase the chances of making exercise fun and participating in it consistently.
Interested in more tips to keep you healthy? Visit the TelMD Upstream Blog!
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