Why exercise and mental health are the perfect pair

Exercise is an important part of a physically healthy pregnancy, as well as a great way of improving or maintaining mental health. Most types of exercise – aside from scuba diving and contact sports – are fairly safe during pregnancy, but it’s a good idea to check in with your healthcare provider before starting a new exercise regimen during pregnancy.

It’s also a good idea to discuss physical activity during pregnancy with your obstetric care provider if you’ve been experiencing vaginal bleeding, lightheadedness or dizziness, or if you’ve been diagnosed as being at risk for preterm labor or other pregnancy complications.

Finding the motivation to lace up your sneakers and do whatever kind of exercise you’re most inclined toward is not always easy, but sometimes it can be a little easier to find that motivation when you know that exercise can strengthen your body and mind all at once.

Exercising to boost mental health can be helpful for people who are facing mental health concerns and complications, as well as people who are just hoping to keep their pregnancies on the right track, mentally, emotionally, and physically.

How are exercise and mental health linked?

Exercise can have a major impact on your mood and well-being. Studies have demonstrated that aerobic exercises like jogging, swimming, cycling, walking, gardening, and dancing, can reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. When you do aerobic exercise, you increase blood circulation to your brain, and influence something called the hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal axis, and these two factors combined can reduce stress on a physiological level.

Exercise can also improve self-esteem, increase social interaction (if you’re doing it in a group setting), and be a great distraction from stressors. You don’t need to be a marathon runner or an Olympic bodybuilder to reap the benefits of regular exercise. Researchers have found that just 30 minutes of moderate exercise, like power walking, three times a week, is enough to see these health benefits.

What are some of the benefits of exercise on mental health?

The health benefits that come with regular exercise positively impact both physical and mental health. Some benefits include:

  • Improved sleep
  • Better endurance
  • Stress relief
  • Improvement in mood
  • Increased mental alertness
  • Reduced tiredness

Exercise, mental health, and pregnancy

While there has been past debate about the benefits of exercise during pregnancy, current studies show that most moderate exercise – as long as you stay away from contact sports, scuba diving, and activities that put you at risk for a fall – is generally a good thing for physical health during pregnancy, and is recommended. As for mental health, regular exercise is good for managing stress, reducing anxiety, and as a regular part of mental health treatment during and outside of pregnancy.

Regular exercise can improve mental health by reducing anxiety and depression, and improving cognitive function and self-esteem. It’s a great idea to check in with your healthcare providers, both physical and mental, about an exercise routine that safely promotes your health and wellbeing during pregnancy.

Read more
  • “Effects of exercise on anxiety, depression and mood.” Guszkowska M Psychiatr Pol. 2004 Jul-Aug; 38(4):611-20.
  • Callaghan P. Exercise: a neglected intervention in mental health care? J Psychiatr Ment Health Nurs. 2004;11:476–483.
  • Fogarty M, Happell B, Pinikahana J.. The benefits of an exercise program for people with schizophrenia: a pilot study. Psychiatr Rehabil J. 2004;28:173–176.
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