5 Ways Exercise Can Improve Your Mental Health

By Alexander Lomibao, UW Oshkosh Peer Wellness Educator

5 Ways Exercise Can Help Improve Your Mental Health

One major factor in the success of a student in college is their mental health.  Mentalhealth.gov defines mental health as “our emotional, psychological, and social well-being.” Overwhelming stress, anxiety, and depression can severely declines one’s mental health and performance in school. A study conducted by the American College Health Association in 2018 found that 33.2 percent of college students reported that stress played a negative affect on their academic performance. 26.5 percent reported poor performance due to anxiety. Here are 5 ways that exercise can help combat that and boost your mental health.

  1. Improving Self Confidence

Accomplishing a feat or completing goals in the gym can be a great confidence booster. Not only can achieving personal fitness goals give you confidence, but also an improved body image.  It is important to set small and attainable goals. Progress takes time. Exercising can help you both lose weight and gain muscle over time. Don’t set the bar too high for yourself and take pride in your accomplishments.

  1. Build New Social Networks

Attending fitness class or group exercise programs can open the door to new connections and friendships.  Having an empowering and better social support network can help improve mental health and confidence as well.   

  1. Decreasing Stress Hormones

Havard Health Publishing reports that aerobic exercise has shown to decrease the stress causing hormone cortisol. Exercise can also help the body better adapt to handling stressful situations.   This occurs because exercise stimulates better communication between the central and parasympathetic nervous systems reducing stress levels.   

  1. Increasing Energy Levels

Regular exercise can help promote better circulation which helps the brain receives more oxygen. Better circulation will lead to more energy, a better mood, and improve cognitive function throughout the day.  Additionally, along with lowered stress levels, one’s quality of sleep improves with regular exercise. According to the Journal of Sport and Health Science, a 2015 research study found that adults with chronic sleep problems reported the symptoms lessened with around 150 minutes of aerobic exercise a week.   

  1. Reducing Anxiety and Depression

 Specifically repetitive and continuous exercise are shown to help release endorphins, the chemicals in the brain that give us pleasure.  Higher and more sustained levels of endorphins can help fight off the negative symptoms of depression and anxiety. Some examples of those types of exercises include jogging, running, dancing, swimming, and cycling.   Although these are all effective, find what you enjoy and what works for you!

No matter what reason you choose to exercise for, all are important to improve mental health and well being. Mental health is an epidemic in our society today, and it is important to acknowledge ways for us to improve it.