Get Fit for the New Year: 8 Benefits of Exercise on Mental Health

When people think of getting fit for the New Year, they often have a weight, health, or strength goal in mind—run a 5K, drop 10 pounds, or lower cholesterol. While physical fitness is essential, it may be motivating to examine the benefits of exercise on mental health as well.

At the Orthopaedic Hospital of Wisconsin, we’re focused on injury prevention, surgical interventions, rehabilitation and physical therapy. Staffed with a team of experts, we know how to help you bounce back from an injury and keep your body moving pain-free. However, we also know the importance of mental health on your recovery and outlook.

When patients focus on their mental health, they often feel better during rehabilitation. They find it easier to follow their therapist or surgeon’s instructions, and they experience positive outcomes. We want to help you reduce stress and feel better in every way. So, if your New Year’s resolution is to get fit, explore the many benefits of exercise on mental health. These 8 benefits of exercise may inspire you to stick to those New Year’s resolutions!

1. Helps Your Energy

It’s no secret that many people experience lower energy levels in the winter months. Whether it’s due to shorter days and colder weather or linked to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), chances are you may notice a downturn in your energy after the holidays. Once the hustle and bustle of the season are over, January, February, and March may seem lengthy and exhausting.

Counteract the effects of winter malaise by boosting your energy with exercise. Some studies have shown that a short burst of exercise can increase energy levels as much as a cup of coffee! Taking a brisk 20-minute walk in the morning or a noontime stroll on your lunch break can help you find the mental energy and focus to get through the workday.

2. Boosts Your Confidence

There’s nothing quite like the confidence boost that comes from meeting a fitness goal. When you cross the finish line on your first 5K or complete an intense spin session, you’ll feel like a million bucks! Exercise boosts feelings of self-efficacy (your belief you can accomplish goals).

No matter your body’s shape or size, exercise helps you realize what it can do, which is likely more than you thought possible. Go ahead and take on a new fitness goal. Show yourself how powerful and strong your body can be.

3. Enhances Your Mood

Physical activity helps increase those feel-good endorphins—chemicals in your brain that help you feel calm and happy. Many people have heard of the “runner’s high” and other feelings of joy that come from pushing through challenging exercise, but even simple fitness activities like a walk around the block can boost your mood.

If the weather’s nice, put on some sturdy shoes (to avoid winter slips and falls) and get outdoors! The sunshine offers a dose of mood-boosting Vitamin D, and the fresh air will help you feel alert and energized. Don’t dismiss a good mood as one of the most significant benefits of exercise on mental health.

4. Reduces Stress

Exercise plays a crucial role in stress management (and stress plays a significant role in mental health). When people feel stress, they often experience a “fight or flight” response in the body. They may even feel physical symptoms like shaking, tension, jaw-clenching, and sweating. Always being in a state of stress can cause you to feel exhausted, less focused, and emotional.

When you exercise, you physically mimic some of those fight or flight feelings that help you power through and positively expel the energy. Some people find walking or running to be meditative as well, increasing mindfulness and reinforcing coping skills. If you’ve ever gone for a walk to “cool off” in a moment of stress, you’ve experienced the benefits of exercise and mental health.

5. Creates Social Connections

One way to cope with stress and mental health challenges is by building strong social connections. These friendships and relationships positively affect your mood and act as your support system to get you through difficult times. Exercise can increase and reinforce those social ties.

Whether you play a team sport or enjoy walking with a buddy, you can reap many social benefits from exercise. Better still, the social connections help you keep your commitment to exercising as well. When you workout with a friend, you’re more likely to stick to exercise goals. Even a furry friend can make a great exercise companion!

6. Improves Sleep

According to Johns Hopkins, researchers are just beginning to understand the correlation between exercise and improved sleep. Physical activity helps you release endorphins, which give you an energy boost (and can keep you awake). So it’s crucial to exercise at least a few hours before bed.

That said, people who exercise for 30 minutes or more at some point during the day have reported improved sleep that very night. There are distinct sleep benefits to getting in physical activity. When you have better sleep patterns, you feel more awake and alert the following day. Your mood often improves, and your energy, concentration, and cognitive abilities increase.

7. Keeps Your Body Feeling Good

Exercise and mental health go hand-in-hand because exercise makes your body feel good. When your body feels healthier, you feel mentally and emotionally healthier as well. Exercise helps counter many health concerns like hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, and joint pain and strain. Building muscle and reducing body fat makes bodies function better.

When we’re sick, in pain, and tired, it’s hard to be in a state of good mental health. Because exercise reduces cholesterol and helps improve cardiovascular health, people feel better when they move more. It’s one of the easiest ways to boost your health (without taking a pill or medical intervention).

8. Counters Anxiety and Depression

Exercise can also be beneficial as part of a treatment plan for anxiety and depression. Researchers have found that participants who regularly exercised exhibited lower depression scores than those who didn’t work out. Other studies have found that exercise is also useful to aid in easing anxiety. Regular workouts help people reduce their panic levels when they experience the “fight or flight” sensations common with anxiety.

One of the greatest aspects of physical activity is that it’s available to almost everyone. People can benefit from increasing their movement and fitting in exercise at almost any age, ability, fitness level, or condition. When combined with other treatments for depression and anxiety, exercise can help people feel better in the long term.

Of course, you should be sure you’re physically up to the demands of increasing your exercise. If you’re experiencing orthopedic pain or discomfort, contact us right away to address the issue. At the Orthopaedic Hospital of Wisconsin, we want to do everything we can to help you feel as good as possible, physically and mentally!