Why exercise and mental health are the perfect pair

Whether you’re managing a mental health condition or just trying to keep your head on straight with a new baby in the house, making certain changes to your routines – like making time to exercise, or figuring out how to sget as close to enough sleep as possible – can have a huge impact on your mental and emotional state. As a new parent, it may feel like exactly the wrong time to try to put lifestyle modifications like a exercise into your life, but the truth is that you’re facing new challenges you’ve never encountered before every day, and lifestyle changes that support strong mental health may help you out when it comes to meeting those challenges.

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

How are exercise and mental health linked?

Exercise can have a major impact on your mood and well-being. Studies have shown 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 your stress on a physiological level.

Exercise can also be a great distraction, improve self esteem, and increase social interaction if you’re doing it in a group setting. 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 (or pushing a stroller powerfully!), 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 include:

  • Improved sleep
  • Increased interest in sex, which sometimes wanes in these early stages of parenting
  • Better endurance
  • Stress relief
  • Improvement in mood
  • Increased energy and stamina
  • Reduced tiredness
  • Weight reduction

Exercise, mental health, and early parenting

Regular exercise can improve mental health by reducing anxiety and depression, and improving cognitive function and self esteem. Healthcare providers often recommend waiting 6 weeks after delivery (8 weeks for a C-section) before getting back into a full workout routine. However, heatlhcare providers can provide guidance on how to work-up to a routine without restrictions.  It’s a great idea to check in with your healthcare providers, both physical and mental, to discuss when it’s time to get started.

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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