I’m sure you’ve heard countless times that exercising helps you gain energy and lose weight. Well, that’s certainly true. But there are also mental health benefits to exercising — some that can be truly life-changing! No matter how much you hate putting on those sneakers and heading to the gym, the mental health benefits of regular exercise can’t (and shouldn’t) be ignored.

Most people would rather hang out on the couch than spend 45 minutes exercising. But what if I told you that taking that little chunk of time out of the day to exercise is not only a way to get more physically fit, but also a solution for depression and anxiety? Let me explain.

  1. Lose Weight.
    The most obvious and well-known benefit of exercising is that it affects your physique, helping you lose or maintain your weight. If you feel better about how you look physically, you’ll naturally feel better mentally. Being happy with your appearance may lead you to exercise regularly, which can boost your confidence and improve your self-esteem. 
  2. Improve Your Mood.
    Need to relax after a hard day? Put down that glass of wine! Physical exercise can do much more for your mood, and you don’t have to do an intense workout to reap the benefits. Studies have shown that any physical activity stimulates several chemicals in your brain that allow you to feel more relaxed.
  3. Get More Energized.
    Feeling tired by 2 pm? Regular physical activity can strengthen your muscles and boost your endurance. Exercise sends oxygen and nutrients to your tissues and allows your cardiovascular system to work more efficiently. When your heart and lungs work better, you have more energy during the day. So getting your body in motion puts more pep in your step!
  4. Sleep Better.
    Do you have a hard time sleeping at night? Regular physical activity can help you fall asleep faster and deepen your sleep. This, in turn, will improve your mood — because we all know how cranky you can get if you don’t get your 8 hours!
  5. Take Your Mind Off Negative Thoughts.
    Exercise can get you out of the house and take your mind off the constant flood of thoughts in your mind. Whenever you have unscheduled time, your thoughts have more potential to become negative. Using that time for physical activity can help redirect your thinking in a more positive and mindful direction.
  6. Cope in a Healthy Way.
    Many people cope with life’s challenges by drinking, watching TV, eating excessively, or avoiding. But these strategies are ineffective and often make the problem worse. Using exercise as a way to manage anxiety, depression, and other difficulties is a healthy coping strategy. 
  7. Release Happy Chemicals.
    Studies show that the chemicals called endorphins, which are released during exercise, help reduce symptoms of depression. When endorphins are released in the brain, immune system chemicals that can worsen depression are reduced and body temperature increases, producing a calming effect.

So have I convinced you to head to the gym or take a walk? I truly hope so. It may be hard to take that first step and establish a routine, but if you suffer from anxiety or depression, I’m sure you’ll try anything to get relief and feel better. Exercise and physical activity are a great way to feel good, get healthy, and have fun. As a general goal, aim for at least 45 minutes of physical activity every day, or schedule five 60-minute workouts per week. Remember to check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program, especially if you have any health concerns.