By now, we’re all familiar with the physical benefits of exercise. It’s a key part of our health, longevity, mobility, and strength. However, there’s another facet of health that exercise nurtures – and that’s your mental health. With the daily stresses of world news, work and family life, and other worries, fitness delivers a necessary break from it all. It provides “me time” – but most importantly, fitness boosts mood, improves your sleep, and makes it easier to process complex emotions. Even a little bit of activity can have an impact, and here’s why.

A little bit of activity is better than none at all

One of the biggest barriers to exercise is one four-word phrase: “I don’t have time.” Sure, this happens sometimes – but is it a daily occurrence? Even five to ten minutes of exercise daily is beneficial to your mental health.

What you can do with five minutes:

And when you up that time to ten, you can squeeze in a quick walk, a jog, and even a short full-body workout. It’s all about making exercise a habit and getting creative. Search online for five- or ten-minute videos or create your own. If you have 15 minutes, start with this booty workout.

The key is to make exercise a habit on most days, even if it’s a little bit. When you get into a groove, add more minutes and more activities. That’s when the mental health benefits of exercise will begin to really pay off.

doing yoga for exercise

Five ways exercise benefits mental health

Now that you know you don’t have to exercise for hours to achieve the mental benefits of exercise, here’s what activity can do for you! Physical fitness is directly tied to your sense of well-being.

A regular exercise routine will help you feel more energetic during the day, get better rest at night, and increase feelings of relaxation and stress relief. Even the most modest amount of exercise can make a difference, and it doesn’t matter how old you are or what your fitness level is – these five benefits are worth it!

Exercise promotes mental clarity. When you exercise, it increases your ability to concentrate and be alert. The University of Central Florida College of Health states this is because exercise delivers energy and adrenaline to the brain.

Exercise increases good feelings. When you work out, your body releases endorphins. According to Harvard Medical School, endorphins are the body’s “natural painkillers.” Endorphins relieve discomfort and stress – thereby improving mood. Exercise also helps you release serotonin. Serotonin is a natural mood lifter and stabilizer.

Exercise improves sleep. Inadequate sleep can take a large toll on your mental state. It can cause confusion, frustration, decreased focus, short tempers, and so much more. The American Sleep Apnea Association reports that 50-70 million Americans experience sleep problems. In addition, they cite that 70% of Americans report having a bad night of sleep at least once a month. Regular exercise can help improve your sleep patterns.

Exercise creates more energy. It might sound a little crazy to exercise to gain energy, but it’s true! Increasing your heart rate several times per week, and you’ll notice that you will have more energy throughout the day. This is because exercise moves oxygen and essential nutrients to your tissues. In turn, this fuels muscles and improves cardiovascular endurance. When you have the energy to do what you love, you’ll be even happier and more fulfilled.

Exercise creates self-awareness. Self-awareness is an essential health tool. When you work out regularly, you’ll be more connected to your body, how your body feels, and the messages it’s sending to you.

pregnant woman doing glute bridge

How to get started with exercise if you have a mental health issue

Even in the best of times, it can be challenging to feel motivated to exercise if it isn’t already a habit. For someone with a mental health barrier, such as stress or anxiety, it can be even more difficult. This leaves a tricky situation: you know exercise is healthy, but there might be little energy or motivation to do it. When this occurs, there are ways to navigate the situation.

Start small. If you haven’t exercised in a while, don’t do too much too soon. Set small goals and work your way up.

Find an activity you love. Whatever makes you move counts. Walking laps at the mall, walking your dog, organizing a closet, stretching in the morning – all of these count as movement. When you feel more confident, you can add more challenging activities. Everyone has to start somewhere!

Make sure you are comfortable. Wear an outfit that makes you feel confident. This might sound silly, but clothes can have an impact on your self-esteem. In addition, make sure you are getting activity in a setting where you are comfortable. If you have anxiety about going to the gym, work out somewhere else – in your home or at your favorite park.

Work out when your energy is high. If you know your energy is at its peak after work, that’s a great time to schedule your workout. Are you a morning person? Do your workout first thing in the morning if you can. If there’s not a time of day when you feel particularly motivated, take a brisk walk in the middle of the day to create energy.

Set up a rewards system. Creating a custom rewards system can keep you motivated to work out and on track with your goals. Losing motivation might make you feel guilty – but with a rewards system in place, you will be encouraged to follow a regular workout schedule. Make a system that aligns with your goals. It is best to not use food as a reward to avoid creating negative feelings – this is especially important if you are currently healing your relationship with food.

So what is a good reward? Here are some ideas:

The ideas are truly endless for rewards – and they’re highly individual. You know what you love, so make a list and create a reward you can look forward to!

fun workout outfit

Overall, creating a fitness routine and sticking with the habit has enormous health benefits to both your physical and mental health. It’s an optimal way to relieve stress, elevate your mood, and it provides a sense of self-control. You’ll feel more energetic and be able to focus more when you work out.

Want more healthy lifestyle tips? Check out our blog for more ways to improve your well-being.