The benefits of regular exercise extend far beyond physical health, also providing a range of advantages leading to mental wellbeing. In particular, an active lifestyle improves anxiety and depression symptoms, enhance self-control, promote goal setting, and strengthen confidence and self-esteem (Heissel et al. 2023; Singh et al., 2023). In this article, we’ll explore how being physically active leads to better mental health and psychological wellbeing Also, we will delve a bit into the benefits of exercising outdoors, especially in nature. Of course, all is supported by scientific evidence 🧐 !!!
From a Clinical Psychology (and mental health) perspective, exercise is a natural remedy for anxiety and depression:
Feeling good 😊. Regular physical activity stimulates the release of endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine – the so-called "feel-good" chemicals in the brain (Blumenthal et al., 1999). These neurotransmitters are responsible for regulating mood, reducing stress, and enhancing overall well-being. They are responsible for feelings that feel good. As a result, regular exercise has been found to be more effective than psychiatric drugs in managing mild to moderate depression and anxiety (Cooney et al., 2013).
Keep calm and try again 🏖. Regular exercise is an effective way to combat stress and improve emotional resilience. Regarding stress, exercise reduces the levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline (Hamer et al., 2006). Furthermore, engaging in regular physical activity helps improve emotional resilience, enabling individuals, on the one hand, to better cope with stressors, and on the other hand to bounce back from negative events more quickly (Tsatsoulis & Fountoulakis, 2006).
Sleep tight 😴. Regular exercise also contributes to better sleep by promoting a healthy sleep-wake cycle and reducing symptoms of insomnia (Passos et al., 2011). Furthermore, a more physically active day will leave you more physically tired at the end of the day, favoring a smooth fall asleep and a regenerative sleep. This, in turn, helps alleviate anxiety and depressive symptoms, as poor sleep quality is often linked to these mental health issues (Baglioni et al., 2011).
Above and beyond mental health, being physically active helps us to extend ourselves and to embrace personal development, as it builds mental wellbeing. I like to call it Mental Fitness. In fact, from a Coaching and Positive Psychology perspective physical activity, exercise and sports build a stronger, more resilient self.
Yes sir 🎖! Engaging in regular exercise is an excellent way to build self-control and discipline (Oaten & Cheng, 2006). Sticking to a workout routine requires persistence, dedication, and the ability to overcome challenges. This discipline can then be transferred to other aspects of life, improving overall self-control and decision-making.
Aim at a star 🏁. Incorporating exercise into your daily routine provides an opportunity to set and achieve personal goals. In turn, goal setting and achievement promote a growth mindset (Dweck, 2006). People who develop a growth mindset learn to embrace challenges and view setbacks as opportunities for growth and improvement (Dweck, 2006). The coolest part of this is that by embracing a positive mindset, we react much more functionally and effectively in stressful situations (Crum et al, 2013, 2017), as well as we literally change our physiological responses to different physical stimuli (Crum et al, 2011). In other words, if we believe we can make it, our mind, body, and behaviors will literally change and help us make it happen! Exercising regularly will help us believe we can make it and reach the star we are aiming at.
I am sexy and I know it 🕺💃. Regular exercise helps improve confidence and self-esteem from at least two different perspective. First, body image and self-perception increase, which in turn is related to increased confidence and self-esteem (Hausenblas & Fallon, 2006). However, and arguably more importantly, as we see progress in our physical abilities and skills, we feel more empowered and capable in other aspects of life. This leads to a more confident identity and sense of self (Fox, Magnus, 2014).
Social connections 👨👩👧👦. Exercise also provides opportunities to meet new people and strengthen existing relationships. Participating in group fitness classes or joining a sports team can foster a sense of belonging, leading to improved mental well-being and reduced feelings of loneliness (Eime et al., 2013).
Finally, from a broader Environmental Psychology perspective, we can’t underestimate the power of nature: the psychological benefits of being outdoor are many and multifaceted. This means that, exercising outside, possibly in natural environments, exerts an even better effect on mental wellbeing:
Keep calm and Nature 🌴. Exercising outdoors, surrounded by nature, has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, and negative emotions more effectively then indoor exercise (Barton & Pretty, 2010). The natural environment provides a serene atmosphere that promotes relaxation and mindfulness, allowing individuals to disconnect from daily stressors.
Enhanced mood and cognitive function 🧐. Outdoor exercise exposes individuals to natural sunlight, which increases the production of serotonin and vitamin D (Mead, 2008). This, in addition to helping elevate mood and reduce feelings of depression, enhances cognitive function, which means that you will be better prepared to focus, learn, think clearly, solve problems, and retain information.
Recharge and recover. Nature also has a healing effect on our body and mind. In fact, natural environments can help you recover faster from injuries (Ulrich, 1984) and can also restore more effectively your mental functioning (Kaplan 1995)
What other reasons do you need to make exercise and physical activity part of your life and of who you are 💪🏻😉? Initiatives like our Mental Fitness Bootcamp are based on this very principle: when you break a sweat and use sport and exercise as a tool for feeling better, rather than being something that you have to do, then something almost magical happens. You transform your mental wellbeing, mindset, and identity.