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Sweating Your Blues Away: How Does Exercise Improve Mental Health?
woman working out and giving a thumbs up

Learn about specific exercises for depression, anxiety, focus, the everyday Scaries, and other things that bog down your brain.

Forget about the stereotypes from all those teen movies from the ‘90s. Hitting the gym regularly doesn’t make you a muscle-head whose only interests are protein shakes and t-shirts with the sleeves cut off. It can make everyone smarter, happier, and more mentally centered. 

Yep, that’s right. If you’re feeling down — whether it’s depression, anxiety, difficulty focusing, lack of creative drive, or all of the above — exercising can help.

How does exercise improve mental health? Let’s put on our science hat for a quick second (you can’t see it, but it’s a really cool hat). 

According to numerous studies, exercising can protect the brain from shrinkage as it ages and increases the formation of new brain cells in the hippocampus. Translation: your yoga addiction (or okay, begrudging morning jogging routine) can help your mind retain all of its good stuff as you age. 

Okay, so exactly how does exercise improve mental health? Let’s talk specifics. 

Exercise doesn’t just help with cognitive function. It can also turn a no-good, terrible day into a better one — and who doesn’t want that?

Here are a few of the mental health benefits of working out. It can reduce anxiety, alleviate depression, jumpstart confidence to Cardi B-like levels, increase creativity, and help you focus. 

How does this all go down in your cranium? We could get science-y again, but we’ll just give you the TL;DR of the research: exercise promotes brain performance in every way. That can mean a smarter you, and also a better-mental-health version, too.  

So, what are some of the best exercises for mental wellness? Just about anything that gets your heart rate up works. But here are a few ideas:

Yoga for anxiety

If you’re reading this article, you’re probably not just wondering “how does exercise improve mental health,” but how does it improve the problem you’re dealing with. 

So, let’s talk specifics. 

If anxiety is tripping you up, try yoga. Incorporating yoga into your life promotes mindfulness and breathing. When you concentrate on breathing and gentle movements, it can help manage those spiraling thoughts that often come with anxiety. 

Best of all, yoga can be done in a group or at home in front of your laptop, not to mention work. So, if social anxiety gets in your way, there’s no need to deal with the pressure of a group class right away — or ever. 

Running for depression

Running for depression? More like running from depression. Strap on your sneakers, pop on those headphones, and head out for a jog the next time you’re feeling down. 

Running is great at boosting serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine… aka the happiness chemicals in your brain.

Bonus: Running doesn’t just enhance these vibes while you’re pounding the pavement; it can keep them going long after the exercise is through. 

Try a dance workout for confidence

Self-esteem is a big part of mental health. So how does exercise improve mental health as it relates to confidence? It can improve your mood and connect you to your body in a way that reminds you how strong and beautiful you are. 

Whether you struggle with a negative self-image or you find yourself feeling way too meek to ask for that pay raise (you know, the one you totally deserve), any type of working out can give confidence a jolt. 

And one of the best (and most enjoyable) exercises for self-esteem is a dance workout. It emphasizes fun rather than torching calories (though don’t worry, you definitely still will), creating a positive experience. 

You’ll sweat. But you’ll also smile. 

Hiking for creativity 

If you find yourself staring at a blank canvas or page, totally uninspired, there’s no need to make like Picasso and start searching for a muse. Instead, try going for a hike. 

You can channel your inner adventurer at a national or state park or simply make a few laps around the local city version during your lunch break. Getting into nature can make you more creative

And who knows? You might even find your next great muse in the form of a majestic, black bear. Just don’t get too close. 

Endurance exercises for concentration 

Brain fog. Lack of focus. We blame it on social media, and that’s not far from the mark. When all of the content you consume is divided into 13-second or 280-character bites, who can blame you for not being able to concentrate?

To improve concentration, try an endurance exercise such as a long run or elliptical session, or even longer reps at the weight training station at the gym. While you work out, focus on being present. Avoid checking your phone or watching TV. Listen to music, count your reps, and focus on the moment. 

So… how does exercise improve mental health if you don’t have time to hit the gym?

But wait, you might be thinking, I don’t have time to go to the gym every day. Is my brain going to be seriously bummed if I’m not on the treadmill every morning before dawn?

Definitely not. Working out should be enjoyable, and it should also be something that fits into your life. Because let’s face it, if you pick an unrealistic workout plan, you’ll never stick to it — and that’s just going to make you feel even worse than you might already feel. 

So, try something you actually love, pick an amount of time and a time of day that fits your schedule, and start enjoying a healthier, happier brain. 

And hey, while you’re at it, why not try some CBD gummies? Much like a good exercise session, they can chill you out, increase focus, and bring some much-deserved calm energy into your day.

And popping a few gummies before a workout may help you focus on what matters: getting your sweat on — not sweating whether folks in that spin class are looking at you.

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