Dec 262017
Working Towards Better Mental Health By Working Out

Photo by Parker Mauk on Unsplash


Learn how exercise helps reduce stress and boost happiness, prevent cognitive decline and supports dealing with dementia. Good workout equals better mental health.


According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately 1 in 5 adults in the US experiences mental health issues in a given year. That equates to around 43.8 million people every year, with issues ranging in severity, cause and curability. While mental health affects individuals in different ways, in addition to an organic, balanced diet and getting outdoors into nature, seeking a reconnect with the environment, exercise can have a universally positive effect in alleviating symptoms, improving well-being and preventing decline.

Having a good fitness regime, complemented by a healthy diet of excellent foods to help you towards good health and maintain it is essential for a healthy body and a healthy mind. Exercise can bring about a multitude of benefits and should be seen as an ideal foundation for improving and sustaining a good state of mental health.

Reduce stress and boost happiness

Mental stress is a common factor contributing to a deterioration in mental health but working out can help manage physical and mental stress.
Exercise can also increase levels of chemicals within the body. One such chemical that is increased in concentration is norepinephrine which targets to reduce the brain’s reaction to stress. Another chemical that exercise produces is endorphins, which improve feelings of happiness. This has proven beneficial for those suffering from depression and anxiety, with the buzz it creates in some cases being as effective as antidepressant medication.

Prevent cognitive decline

Part of the inevitable aging process is likely to involve a slight decline but exercise and a healthy diet can help reduce and prevent degeneration.
In a report by Professor Gill Livingston into Dementia Prevention, Intervention and Care, she stated that adults who worked out regularly were more likely to maintain cognition over those that did not. This could be in part due to the fact that since exercise reduces the risk of depression, it also reduces the effect that has on impairment to memory. The chemicals produced by exercise support the hippocampus, which is a part of the brain responsible for memory and learning.

Cardio exercise is important as it gets the heart pumping and improves blood flow to the brain. The concept of ‘regular exercise’ need not be an intimidating one since the ideal target time being around 2.5 hours per week. Suitable exercise that could improve your mental health may include:

  • Walking – even if it starts out as walking around a shopping center, as stamina builds, taking longer, brisker walks or even hikes will become possible
  • Swimming – is a great low intensity workout and reduces joint strain
  • Cycling – an ideal moderate-impact exercise but if cycling outdoors, do take issues with balance into consideration
  • Using an elliptical machine – for a more intensive workout but with reduced impact on ankles and knees

Dealing with dementia

For those already diagnosed with dementia, such as Alzheimer’s, exercise can be of benefit since it can help maintain a good sleep-wake cycle which in turn will help to facilitate an improved sleeping patterns and restful nights sleep. Since those with
Alzheimer’s can feel drowsy and nap during the day which can affect their sleep at night, commonly leading to confusion, irritability and wandering at night. While exercise and physical activity cannot work to restore memory, it can certainly help to improve memory.

Mental health covers a wide variety of issues requiring varying levels of attention and treatment. However, building a solid foundation for your health, from your physical to mental well-being is an important starting point. Having an exercise regime that suits your lifestyle and circumstances as well as a balanced, healthy diet is an ideal way to start on your journey to better mental health.


Contributed by Lucy W. (