6 of The Best Exercises for Mental Health
We recently wrote a post about the incredible benefits exercise can have on your mental health, from those awesome endorphins to a better night’s sleep. Here we’ll share six examples of the kinds of exercise you can start right away to help boost your mental health.
Research shows that an average of 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week can boost energy and socialisation, fight pain and, most importantly, improve emotional wellbeing - even helping to fight symptoms of depression.
But which exercises are best for mental health? First and foremost, it’s important to remember that the best exercise for your own wellbeing is the one that you enjoy. Moving in a way that is enjoyable for you is key to making it a positive habit you can stick to in the long-term. So whether you’re hitting the gym for a workout, or dancing around your kitchen, the important thing is to find what works for you and gets you moving in a way that makes you feel good.
Still not sure where to start? Here are some of our favourite mood-boosting exercises for a little inspiration!
Walking may seem like a tamer option for staying healthy, but the joy of it is that it’s free, is relatively low impact, and gets you out in the fresh air. Going for a walk can help to ease stress, and help with mental health issues like anxiety and depression. Even as little as a 15-minute walk can be enough to clear your head.
It's important to remember that you don't have to exercise for a full hour or make it challenging to be beneficial to your wellbeing. You can break it up into small manageable chunks throughout the day if that suits you better.
Another excellent feature of walking is that you can increase the intensity as you’d like. If you’re totally new to exercising or have any physical limitations, you can ease your way in with a gentle stroll. As you get more used to that, you can build up to faster walks, or take on some steeper slopes to push the challenge. You’ll be able to enjoy all of the psychological benefits, but with the added bonus of pushing your body into a fitter state.
Yoga’s foundations are based around spirituality and, with its close ties to meditation and thoughtful breathing exercises, it continues to be synonymous with relaxation and tranquility. The benefits of yoga have led to it being a well-regarded practice tool of psychotherapy. Yoga is said to increase body awareness, ease stress, and ease muscle tension. Plus, it can be a calming exercise that allows you to centre entirely on yourself and your body, which explains why so many people regularly enjoy the mental health benefits of yoga.
Consistent yoga practice has been shown to lower the heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure and cardiac output, as well as boosting serotonin. As a result, it can help to ease depression and lower anxiety.
And it’s important to remember that there are many different types of yoga available, offering a spectrum from totally calming, meditative classes, through to more physically demanding options, so you can try a few until you find the perfect one for your needs. Learn out more about the incredible benefits of yoga with our guide.
3. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
If you’re looking for a workout that is going to be challenging, but at the same time as giving your emotional wellbeing a boost, then HIIT or circuit training could be a good option. It’s a fantastic way to increase your heart rate, often requires little to no equipment, and can be completed in a short amount of time.
For some beginners to advanced HIIT workout ideas, check out our free workouts.
Running is often one of the most celebrated exercises for combining physical fitness with mental wellbeing. Similarly to walking, it can be totally free, can take place out in the fresh air, and has the benefit of being an activity you can easily transfer to the gym by stepping onto the treadmill.
On a run, mood-elevating endorphins combine with the post-run ‘runners high’, encouraging a feeling of well being and even mild euphoria. Runners also regularly celebrate the benefits of stress-relief and better sleep, both of which can really add towards improved emotional wellbeing, relieving anxiety and fighting depression.
Read our post What Does Running For 30 Minutes Do For Your Body to learn more. And if you’re considering starting running for mental health benefits, you can check out our running FAQ guide to find out everything you need to know.
5. Resistance Training
Resistance training is exercise that involves pushing or pulling against some kind of force, whether that’s free weights, weights machines or even your own body weight. The focus is on improving strength or building muscle, which in turn can offer a wide range of positive effects on your body, from improved bone health to improved functioning in your everyday life.
But the benefits don’t just end there, there’s also a host of ways resistance training could positively affect mental health. Proven benefits include: improved memory, lower anxiety, better sleep, improved cognition and a chance of battling depression and chronic fatigue.
Plus, resistance training is an excellent way to boost self-esteem and confidence, which is highly associated with positive physical and mental wellbeing. As you work on your strength, hitting new PRs can be very rewarding. If you're not sure how to get into resistance training, don't worry - you can always ask a personal trainer at your gym who would be more than happy to help provide guidance.
Want to know more? Our guide provides lots of information about resistance training and its benefits.
6. Boxing and Martial Arts
Anyone who’s ever tried boxing - or other similar forms of martial arts exercise like kickboxing or Boxfit classes - will know that it's not only a great way of working up a sweat, but also a fantastic way to let off steam. While the intensity of the exercise helps with a good supply of mood-boosting endorphins, the punching and kicking movements are the ideal stress-busters and an excellent way of relieving any pent up aggression.
Boxing and martial arts can help with self-esteem and confidence, as you build strength, fitness and see your abilities improve. Plus, you can learn a lot about self control, focus and bravery, all of which are incredibly valuable for boosting your own emotional wellbeing.
Learn more about the benefits of boxing with our guide.
If you’re interested in starting or developing your own fitness journey, take inspiration from some of our members, many of whom have used exercise to boost their own mental health. Or discover more information and inspiration over on our mental health and the gym hub, where you’ll find exercise ideas and workout advice that could help you on your well being journey.
These are just a few ideas to help you. Some people may prefer intensity exercises, some people prefer high intensity activities. Some people doing cardio, whilst others may like lifting weights. The best exercise is the one which you enjoy, meets your needs and goals, and makes you feel good.
For more ways to help manage your mental health, check out our Ways to De-stress and Unwind piece with tips from Dr Sarah Hattam.
Struggling with your mental health? Please seek help and support
Please know that it's okay not to be okay, and that you are not alone. 1 in 4 people experience mental health issues each year. If you are struggling with your mental health, please speak to someone you can trust like a friend or family member or a doctor and get support. There are also Mental Health organisations and charities, such as Mental Health UK, Mind UK where you can get more information and support.