It’s common knowledge that regular physical activity does a lot to improve your physical health. It helps you maintain a healthy weight; control your blood pressure and cholesterol; stay energized; reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke, certain cancer, diabetes, and other diseases; and lots more. But we’d also like to highlight some of the many mental health benefits of exercise, which don’t get talked about quite as often.
How Much Exercise Should You Get?
If you want to experience the mental health benefits of exercise, you might be wondering just how much you need.
First, it’s important to consult your doctor before beginning any exercise regimen—especially if you’re starting it up after a prolonged period of relative inactivity or if you have any health conditions that may pose risks when your body is physically stressed. Your doctor can give you personalized advice on how to safely begin exercising and gradually build up.
There’s no exact number for how much physical activity you need to experience psychological benefits from exercising. It’s different for each person, and even the types of activity you take part in matters. Unlike physical benefits, mental benefits are more tied into your enjoyment of the activity than just the hard data like whether you hit your target heart rate. When you find activities you love—say, swimming or biking—you’ll experience more mental health benefits than when you force yourself through exercise you don’t like doing.
But, if you’re looking for numbers as guidance, most experts recommend that typical healthy adults get at least 30 minutes of moderate to intense exercise most days of the week. But remember: Any amount of activity is better than none. This is true for physical benefits, but even more so for mental benefits.
Mental Health Benefits of Exercise
So what are some of the great mental health benefits of exercise? It:
- Is one of the best natural ways to relieve stress and the many symptoms that manifest from it
- Improves your ability to concentrate
- Enhances your mood
- Increases mental energy
- Sharpens your memory and mental acuity
- Helps keep you energized and motivated to engage in self-care (which can be a particular challenge when you’re stressed or struggling with certain mental health conditions)
- Boosts self-esteem and confidence
- Contributes to better sleep, which itself has numerous physical and mental health benefits
- Boosts your libido, and regular sex offers plenty of mental health benefits
- Helps treat mild to moderate depression—even better than medication in some cases, without the side effects
- Reduces anxiety and can cut back on the frequency and/or severity of panic attacks
- Helps naturally manage ADHD in kids and adults