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Why exercise is great for your Mental Health

December 18 2015 Knowledge

(And why some kinds can be even better)

By now the physical benefits of regular exercise are well established – we know it improves cardiac health, mobility, and longevity. Its also been heavily investigated as a treatment for clinical levels of depression and anxiety – which is fantastic as far as we are concerned.

However, one of the most potent benefits of regular exercise is the ability to improve or maintain an individual’s current state of mental health in non-clinical populations. Meaning exercise contributes strongly to an improves mood, stress, tension, energy levels, emotions and attitude – what we might think of as  indicators of how your brain is doing at a given time. When we think of health in a traditional sense we often consider it to be the absence of sickness; but much like how exercise can improve physical well-being and quality of life (and therefore contribute to higher degrees of wellness), mental health should be likewise envisioned as a continuum. This is where exercise can make a profound contribution.

Regular exercise can help to improve mental health by:

  • Reducing health concerns;
  • Reducing fatigue/increasing energy levels and improving appetite;
  • Providing a distraction to worries or stress from rumination
  • Improving sleep;
  • Providing a positive outlet for anger or frustration;
  • Providing a sense of accomplishment;
  • Providing the opportunity for goal setting;
  • Improving self-confidence and self-efficacy;
  • Having Fun (etc.)

Maintaining a regular exercise schedule can also improve ones live by providing routine and a sense of control over one’s off-work time. Group Exercise may be particularly potent because it introduces a strong social element to the process. It contributes to a sense of group belonging and increases positive mood. When you form positive attachments with others you increase your overall social support – if something has got you down you have more people to talk to and more resources to draw on. Think about the most tightly-knit groups you can think of in the exercise community: runners, triathletes, cyclists, powerlifters, olympic weightlifters (and yes, of course CrossFit folks). Fitness creates communities. Further, the sense of shared accomplishment that comes from completing something difficult with a group breaks down barriers between demographically disparate groups; group exercise and sport are fantastic mechanisms for social change.

When it comes to exercise two additional (but somewhat antagonistic) traits may add even more value. Exercise that is particularly calming, introspective, or slow in nature (yoga for example) can promote a deep sense of relaxation and mental restoration. Exercise that is extremely difficult, challenging, or novel in that it introduces new skills, concepts, or goals can promote a sense of mastery and accomplishment all while keeping the brain young by creating new motor patterns and pathways. This is likely part of explosion and growth of obstacle course racing, cross-continental treks/races and, of course, CrossFit style circuit and military training.

Whatever type of exercise you choose, do it because you love it. Do it because it helps you feel accomplished, and crush goals. Do it because you’ll sleep better, eat better, and hang out with healthy people. Above all, do it because it is good for your physically and mentally.


Happy Holidays and make sure you put your health first at this stressful time of year!


If you are interested in finding out more about Ironstone and how we exercise, drop us an email at info@crossfitironstone.com