Most of us understand the value and benefits of exercise for our physical well-being, however getting your body moving can also do wonders for your mental health. Throughout our adult lives we experience a lot of responsibility and significant life events that can all cause our mental well-being to deteriorate. Even if these events are happy times in our lives such as moving home, marriages of close family or welcoming new family members, they can all cause us to feel under pressure. This is where both physical and mental exercise can help to calm our minds for enjoyable mental health.
As many as 1 in 4 people in the UK experience some form of mental health problem, with stress, anxiety and depression among the most common. Combating the concerns we keep trapped in our heads can be helped with the aid of exercises that encourage an increase in endorphins and a sense of peace within the mind.
If you or someone close to you is struggling with mental health issues, certain physical and mental exercises may be beneficial. We take a look at some of the best exercises to help calm your mind to give you a clearer head.
We’re often told we need to fit in our 10,000 steps a day, but how and where you complete those steps can have an impact on the benefits you’ll reap from your walk. Studies from Nippon Medical School in Tokyo have found nature walking changes the blood flow to the brain which results in an increased number of killer cells that fight infection in the body. Other benefits commonly associated with nature walks are a reduction in anxiety, stress and depression, improved immunity and a generally happy demeanour. Nature walks can be taken at a pace suitable for your physical abilities, but moderate paced walks are best to promote aerobic benefits as well.
Yoga is a great stress-busting exercise that can be as easy or as tough as you like thanks to its many variations of practice. This is primarily due to yoga placing an emphasis on breathing and slow, focussed movements. A mind-body practice, yoga is designed to encourage a level of meditation with postures, known as asanas, helping to alleviate physical discomfort caused by anxiety. The movements work to stretch, lengthen and balance muscles to relieve tension that can exacerbate anxiety and stress. Yoga can be easily done in your own home or by joining a local class, with numerous varieties of yoga on offer.
Tai Chi is one of the best stress relieving exercises as a gentle and meditative practice. It is based on the concept of qi, your energy flow, working to balancing both your physical and mental forces. The slow, gentle movements are great for those with reduced mobility and can work towards slowly toning your muscles for improved balance.
Many people benefit from swimming as a way to calm their mind. While the physical benefits are clear, there is also something incredibly calming about being in or near water. A great exercise for those with limited mobility or that experience joint-related issues, swimming limits how much impact joints experience meaning it is ideal for those who find other physical exercise painful or uncomfortable. Swimming has also been found to lower incidences of depression and anxiety by increasing blood flow to the brain.
Physical exercises aren’t the only way to create a calmer mind. Meditation and mindfulness are great mental exercises that are suitable for everyone, including those with disabilities. Practising mindfulness and meditation doesn’t impose restrictions due to physical ability, helping reduce the anxiety you may be experiencing and help you focus and improve overall quality of life.
Which exercises to avoid?
While for some people higher intensity exercises such as HIIT (high intensity interval training) and boxing might feel like they temporarily relieve stress, these activities can create more physical stress on the body. Especially for those who are already feeling stressed or depressed, increased cortisol levels from high intensity exercise can become a hindrance instead of seeing benefits. These are best incorporated sparingly or not at all when trying to create a calmer mind.
Finding exercises that you enjoy and make you feel good are key to improving mental health, reducing the symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression and promoting a calmer mind. Whether you choose to practice physical or mental exercises, or participate in group or community activities, they will all go a long way to making you feel better more often.