How physical activity can improve your mental health

Header image for the article How physical activity can improve your mental health
We’ve been told from a very young age that being physically active is an important habit to get into. It’s no secret that living an active lifestyle is good for your overall health. Although there are obvious physical health benefits to being active, a lesser known benefit is the effect exercise can have on your mental health. It has been proven that participating in physical activity can help those who struggle with anxiety, depression, ADHD and more. According to the Canada Food Guide (2019), it is recommended that adults (ages 18-64) have 150 active minutes or 2.5 hours a week.

How does exercise help with mental health?

Exercise stimulates chemicals in your brain that can boost confidence, as well as reduce stress and overall mood improvement. When dealing with depression, these chemicals can help parts of your brain that aren’t as responsive. When exercising you brain releases endorphins, a chemical known to improve your mood – this is also known as “runners high”.

Physical activity can also help with managing stress levels. Taking an hour or so out of your day to focus on your self is crucial when struggling with anxiety and stress. Exercise gives you the opportunity to get all your frustrations out in a healthy way.

What is considered physical activity?

According to the Canada Food Guide, to see benefits of physical activity you should aim for 150 active minutes spread throughout the day. The activity can be moderate to vigorous throughout each week, broken into sessions of 10 minutes or more. This could be as moderate as walking or yoga.

How do you start being physically active?

Speak with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine. The key to getting active is finding an activity or activities that you enjoy. For example, join a basketball team. Another option would be to set a realistic personal goal. For example, training to run a 5K. Getting into a routine will solidify being able to keep an active lifestyle.

Planning to go for a run, walk or the gym for three to four days a week is a great way to start getting into that habit. It takes 21 to 66 days to form a habit. It’s important to set personal goals and give yourself breaks in between days so you continue to work on developing the habit.

Does diet matter?

When we talk about physical activity it is often followed by the importance of a healthy diet. Having a balanced diet will not only help you hit your personal fitness goals but also help with you overall mood and can improve mental health. According to the Canada Food Guide, your diet should consist of mostly vegetables, whole grains, protein, and lots of water.