Exercise and Mental Health

The benefits of exercise on your mental healthWhen I was a teenager I thoroughly enjoyed sports, such a volleyball and horseback riding. I left high school and when I went to college I no longer participated in these fun sports. This was when I began to notice my mental health was suffering. College was hard work, stressful, and time-consuming. I tried to go to the gym, but I always disliked this. Slowly I began to form the opinion, “I hate exercising.” I refused to participate in it until about 6 months after graduate school. I justified it because I was so busy and tired. Finally, after eliminating any physical problems, I decided it was time to get back to exercising. Within a week of being active, I started to notice the positive effects.

Exercise stimulates chemicals that improve mood, as well as parts of the brain that are responsible for memory and learning. Exercise is not just about losing weight. It has so many benefits for our mental health! Chemicals that are released when we exercise include serotonin, which is the key hormone that stabilizes our mood and creates feelings of well-being and happiness. Exercise reduces stress, depression, and anxiety. It pumps more blood to the brain, which helps us to think more clearly.

Start small!

It is incredibly understandable to feel as though we are too tired, busy, and overwhelmed to exercise regularly. Start small with only one day a week for 15-30 minutes, then work your way up. Even if we can’t fit in more than one day a week, something is better than nothing! Make sure you are doing something you enjoy, too! Just going to the gym isn’t for everyone. Join a sports league, try Zumba, kickboxing, or riding bikes. Take your dog for a walk and get some fresh air! There are plenty of ways to get exercise besides forcing ourselves to the gym. 

Two years ago, I would have never believed I had the time, energy or motivation to be exercising regularly. But I deserve it and so do you!

It is important to remember, however that exercise alone may not be enough to pull us through difficult times or be the cure for our mental health challenges. Sometimes we need therapy and medication as well and that’s OK! Never be afraid or ashamed to reach out for extra help.


About Shelton Piland: 

Shelton is a Supervisee in Clinical Social Work and provides services at our Fredericksburg location. She graduated from the University of Mary Washington with a B.A. in Sociology. She received her Master’s Degree in Clinical Social Work from Virginia Commonwealth University. Throughout her time at VCU she has worked with elementary, middle school, and high school students in the Spotsylvania Public School system. To learn more about Shelton, visit here.

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