You already know that exercise is excellent for your physical health. But how exactly does it tie to mental well-being? Regular exercise can help prevent mental health problems before they start and assist in maintaining existing ones. And although it seems like it's the last thing you want to do when you have depression, it can make a big difference once you get started. 

Here are a few ways exercise can help you fight depression: 

  1. Manage stress.  Exercise decreases stress hormones and increases your body feel-good' chemicals—naturally boosting your mood. Additionally, your relationship with stress changes. Those who exercise regularly are less affected and manage their stressors more healthily. It's a powerful way to release built-up physical and mental tension while reducing feelings of fear and worry.

  2. Social support. We all need a support system. Doing your favorite workout with a friend not only benefits your health but strengthens your relationships with others as well. On the other hand, some physical activities promote opportunities to meet new people. Even a friendly smile or a simple "hello" as you walk around your neighborhood can improve your mood.

  3. Improved cognition. The same "feel good" endorphins that are released when exercising are the ones that help you concentrate, focus, and feel mentally sharp.  Exercise also promotes the increase of new brain cells and counteracts age-related decline.

  4. Higher self-esteem. By meeting even the smallest exercise goals, you'll feel a sense of achievement and boost self-confidence. Regular activity can also make you feel better about your appearance.

  5. Better quality of sleep. Exercise impacts everyone differently. Some may find it helpful to do it right before bed, and some prefer to do it in the mornings. Regardless of when you choose to exercise, doing so regularly can improve your sleep patterns.

  6. Increased energy. It may seem like exercising will make you feel more tired, but raising your heart rate a few times a week will make you feel more energized. Start with 1-2 minutes per day, and increase as you go.

 The challenge of getting started

Depression manifests as trouble sleeping, low energy, changes in appetite, fatigue, and low mood, which all result in less motivation to exercise. Although it's challenging to break this cycle, getting up and moving for a few minutes a day is helpful. Begin by setting small, realistic goals, and soon, a few minutes will quickly turn into 20, and so on. When your body starts to feel better, so will your mind.

While exercise is an essential component of your mental health, it is not a replacement for proper treatment. Check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program, and if you have any mental health concerns, contact a mental health care provider.