While physical exercise is known to be good for the body, it's now irrefutable that it's also good for the mind. When exercise is included as part of an everyday routine, participants reap both physical and mental well-being benefits.
Research continues to validate that exercise can improve mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and a negative mood. And to underscore what's now obvious, the sustained prevalence of mental health issues brought on by the pandemic makes exercise all the more important these days.
Today we'll explore the connection between the body and mind, the mental health benefits of physical activity, and the importance of workplace wellness programs focused on both.
THE CONNECTION BETWEEN BODY AND MINDPeople who exercise regularly often report having better mental and emotional well-being. Consider the following mental health benefits of exercise:
- Mood boost - Exercise triggers the production of endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin, mood-boosting chemicals in the brain. Those four chemicals are responsible for feelings of happiness.
- More energy - Increasing the heart rate and boosting oxygen circulation in the body can make us feel more energized. It may seem counterintuitive, but expending energy can actually provide a spark of vitality some need to get through the day.
- Better sleep - Exercise can help regulate sleep patterns and reduce the time it takes to fall asleep. The more active someone is, the more their body pushes them to sleep and reset at night. That said, it's wise to exercise at least one to two hours before bed so the brain has enough time to wind down.
- Reduced stress - Physical activity reduces the levels of stress hormones (e.g., adrenaline and cortisol). It’s also linked to lower physiological reactivity toward stress, so exercise can also be a coping strategy for stress.
- Improved memory - An endorphin boost can help with concentration and the feeling of being mentally sharp for work or other tasks.
- Higher self-esteem - When exercise becomes a habit, participants may feel more powerful or confident. They may also enjoy a sense of accomplishment when they meet their fitness goals.
- Stronger resilience - Exercise is a healthy way to build resilience and cope with mental or emotional challenges instead of turning to negative behaviors, alcohol, or other substances.
Any movement helps since physical activity of any kind can be beneficial to mental well-being. Exercise can take one's mind off problems or negative thoughts by redirecting them to the activity at hand.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults get moderate-intensity aerobic activity for at least 150 minutes each week and muscle-strengthening activities two times per week. It may seem like a lot at first, but if we break it down, that’s 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times a week.
Even if someone doesn’t have time for 30 minutes to exercise, they should find something that works for them. Any physical activity is better than none. Understandably, getting motivated for a workout can seem more challenging if someone is battling depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues.
- Start slowly - Exercise sessions should begin with short sessions, increasing in duration and intensity over time. The goal is to commit to moderate physical activity and build it into a daily routine.
- Have fun - Exercise activities should be centered around something the participant enjoys. This makes it far more likely to be incorporated into a routine.
- Capitalize on peak periods of energy - Workouts should be scheduled when energy levels are at their the highest.
- Find a partner - Exercising with a friend or loved one can make it more fun. Friendly competition and holding each other accountable also helps in forming routines.
FITNESS-ORIENTED BENEFIT OPTIONS IN A POST-PANDEMIC WORLD
Employers who support physical wellness programs have come realize that the fitness landscape has changed since the COVID-19 pandemic. Even as the pandemic subsidies, there continues to exist a wide swath of the public who is no longer as comfortable as they once were with indoor group settings.
Accordingly, as discussed in a previous blog post, employers who historically offered discounted gym memberships or onsite fitness facilities have augmented these benefits with other options such as virtual fitness instruction, subsidies for home fitness equipment, and reimbursements for fitness-oriented event registration fess.
Employers just need to keep in mind that many of these benefits are a taxable benefit under Internal Revenue Service (IRS) guidelines.
Sustaining physical and mental health comes down to making exercise a routine and fun part of everyday life. Those who are hesitant should talk to their doctor if they have any questions or concerns about incorporating exercise into their day.
For more information on workplace wellness programs, especially those with mental health benefits, contact JP Griffin Group, a division of HUB International, today. Our Health & Performance specialty practice experts are ready to assist.