When someone is stressed or in anguish, they may take a walk to help clear their head. Well, it turns out that research has shown that aerobic exercise benefits more than just physical fitness. It also can boost your mental health! Physical and mental health are closely connected. Typically, what is good for one may benefit the other.

What science says:

A 2011 Oxford University study found that regular exercise could work as well as medication to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression with its positive effects lasting for hours afterwards. In addition, a regular schedule of exercise can also have long lasting effects on mental health. Exercise produces endorphins that can act as natural painkillers and contribute to a positive mood and better sleep.

Endorphins are natural brain chemicals that can enhance your sense of well-being. A 2018 clinical research study examined two groups- -one that completed a 25 minute treadmill activity and a control group–and found that aerobic exercise promotes reduction in anxiety levels.

Beyond the effects on brain chemicals, the psychological and emotional benefits of exercise also can help improve mental health. A regular aerobic exercise program can help people gain confidence, get more social interaction and can help people cope with symptoms of anxiety and depression via positive actions versus turning to alcohol, dwelling in depression or hoping it will go away on its own.

What can you do?

A program of aerobic exercise like walking, jogging or swimming can be accomplished in 30 minutes a day, and can greatly boost your mental health. Sticking with this program over the long term helps to maintain the positive effects on mood and mental health.

The best way to maintain this schedule is to choose an activity that you most enjoy and setting reasonable and realistic goals. Examine the barriers that may prevent you from completing this activity. Having an exercise partner may help encourage you to keep your goals. If you have an infant or small child, grab your stroller and head outside or encourage your family to walk or jog together.

The psychological benefits of being outdoors and in sunlight cannot be understated. In a 2015 study, researchers at Stanford University found that those who walked in nature experienced less anxiety and negative thoughts and more happiness, confidence and self-fulfillment. Being outdoors and active are related to greater self-reported physical functioning and less depression.

Before beginning any aerobic exercise program, people should consult with their health care provider. They may have specific guidelines on the best type of exercise for your physical condition and may have specific recommendations on what may best aid your mental health.

by Tracy Wright