Exercise for Your Mental Health

Healthy Living

Exercise for Your Mental Health

Kathryn GentileContributor: Kathryn Gentile, ACSM-CEP, EIM level II, CPT, CSN, DCES

We are often told that exercise is essential for our diabetes management, but did you know it can help your mental health as well?

I was 8 when I had my first panic attack and was sent home from school. I have since learned that I struggle with both generalized anxiety and panic disorder. At age 18, I was put on medication for these issues, but I still struggled. Finally, I realized when I exercise, I always feel better, sleep better, my energy levels go up, I could actually accomplish things, and more. I did some research and found studies evaluating the beneficial effects I had experienced firsthand. But even knowing how much it helped me, somedays I just couldn't find it in me to go on a walk or do a workout - I just wanted to nap.

If you're battling with your mental health, you may have seen a long list of things that can help, such as meditation, self-care, following a routine, good nutrition, positive self-talk, and exercise. These lists are valid and can help, but finding the energy or motivation can be challenging, and adding something can feel overwhelming. So how do you get yourself to exercise, especially with depression or anxiety?

First, let's get into a bit of the science of mental health. When you're battling issues such as depression and anxiety, certain parts of your brain can be less responsive or overly responsive. This can affect our energy and sleep patterns and cause us to feel greater pain, stress, and more. But when we exercise, we produce endorphins which reduce feelings of stress and pain. Mood-enhancing hormones are also stimulated. Additionally, it's a great way to distract yourself from life stressors.

Here are my tips on how to get started with exercise and overcome the hurdles that often prevent you from success:

  • Don't push yourself: Try starring with a small goal, because all activity is going to benefit you. Many people notice that the most challenging part is to get up and get started. Once you start, you begin to feel much better quickly.
  • Find support: Almost everyone needs someone or something to help with accountability. Personally, I still, to this day, can barely ever get myself to go to the gym alone. I need to go with friends or take a group class (where I see friends who encourage me to show up).
  • Take notes on how the rest of your day goes after you did some form of activity: It's easy to overlook the mental and physical improvements you felt after doing any form of physical activity when you're tired and looking for an excuse not to do anything. Make notes on how you feel when you do something and compare it to how you feel when you aren't active. This might help with motivation.

Exercise really can make a big difference in mental health, just as it does with diabetes. It's one of the big reasons I decided to study it in college. Talk to your health care provider about getting started so that you can start to feel the benefits too.

Kathryn Gentile, ACSM-CEP, EIM level II, CPT, CSN, DCES is an ACSM Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist, Personal Trainer, Sports Nutritionist Coach, and holds a level two Exercise is Medicine credential. She received her Bachelor of Science from Ave Maria University and is currently a Masters student studying Clinical Exercise Physiology at West Chester University of PA. Kathryn works at Integrated Diabetes Services as an Exercise Physiologist and provides one-on-one guidance for patients looking for individualized exercise plans. Connect with Kathryn on Instagram at @kathryngentile, and follow Integrated Diabetes on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.