7 Exercises For Mental Health To Lead A Stress-Free Life

As per WHO’s report, physical activity can be used as a comp

lementary strategy along with conventional treatments and therapies to manage mental health conditions.

This is because the psychological effects of physical activity include postponing the onset of such mental conditions and reducing a wide range of symptoms.

There is evidence that there are positive effects of exercise on mental health as well as the physical health of those suffering from certain mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.

Such information indicates that these benefits of physical exercise on mental health and physical health relate to enhancing mood, cognitive function, muscle strength, physical fitness, and reducing or delaying the onset of mental illnesses.

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However, despite studies indicating innumerable benefits, people suffering from mental health conditions fail to schedule physical exercise.

The primary reason underlying people suffering from mental conditions not taking up physical activity is due to intrapersonal factors like lack of awareness and motivation.

As per WHO’s report, working out helps depression to decrease by up to 45%.

Furthermore, a minimum of 60-minute physical exercise every week can prevent 12% of new cases of depression.

Thus, it concludes that physical exercise is good for depression and is as effective as conventional treatments like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or antidepressant medication for mild depressive symptoms.

Furthermore, physical activity can turn out to be an effective treatment for depression throughout life in children, adolescents, adults, the postnatal period, and late-life.

Therefore, the following are some of the exercises for mental health that can promote well-being as well as contribute to treating mental health conditions.

    1. Aerobic Exercises

      There is a significant growth in modern-day health challenges like obesity and metabolic syndrome due to the changing lifestyle involving increased sedentary behavior.

      Therefore, simple lifestyle modifications can go a long way in improving health and quality of life especially for those suffering from moderate to serious mental illnesses.

      One of the important changes that you can bring to your modern-day lifestyle is to exercise regularly.

      As per the evidence, regular exercise can help to reduce depression and anxiety. These aerobic exercises involve jogging, cycling, dancing, swimming, walking, and gardening.

      Further, it also leads to improving an individual’s self-esteem and cognitive function. How?

      Well, physical exercise increases blood circulation to the brain that helps in changing your mood, and lowering symptoms of low self-esteem and social withdrawal.

      Besides this, there are many other benefits of exercise for depression and mental health in general. Physical exercise can improve mental health and relieve stress as it leads to brain distraction, self-efficacy, and social interaction that are extremely beneficial for your mental health.

      Thus, 30 minutes of regular exercise of moderate intensity like brisk walking for at least 3 days a week is a must for improving mental health.

      Moreover, it is not mandatory that this 30-minute exercise has to be done continuously.

      You can take three 10 minute walks as these prove to be as useful as a continuous 30-minute walk.

      Other physical and psychological benefits of exercise include:

      • Reduction in stress levels
      • Sleep enhancement
      • Better endurance
      • Reduction in weight
      • Mood improvement
      • Enhanced energy and stamina
      • Reduction in cholesterol levels
      • Reduction in tiredness
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    2. Yoga

      As per the American Association of Family Physicians (AAPF), there is sufficient evidence indicating that Yoga is an effective intervention for treating mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety.

      Yoga is a 3,000-year-old practice that has evolved as a holistic approach to general wellness and healing.

      Though, the traditional methods to treat mental conditions such as anxiety and depression include several types of psychotherapy and medications.

      As far as medications are concerned, these do not help individuals in dealing with social and environmental factors that give immense stress and worsen the mental condition.

      But various forms of psychotherapy, especially Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), help people to deal with mental conditions like anxiety and depression.

      Such therapies help individuals to learn ways to replace negative thought patterns with more productive or positive ways of thinking.

      And as per research, similarities have been put forth between Yoga and various forms of psychotherapies.

      Just like psychotherapy, Yoga is a behavioral intervention that can be altered as per the needs of an individual.

      It can be used to bring about a behavioral change in the individual and decrease the level of rumination that such an individual resorts to due to immense stress and anxiety.

      But How Does Yoga Help in Stree Management?

      Well, various Yoga Practices like movement (asana), controlled breathing (pranayama), and meditation (dhyana) help in achieving self-awareness or entitlement when used together.

      The entire objective of undertaking various Yoga Practices is to join body, mind, and soul for the overall wellbeing of an individual.

      In fact, Yoga is now considered a therapeutic intervention for a variety of health conditions.

      The International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) has laid down the first-ever ethical guidelines to use Yoga as a therapeutic intervention in dealing with a variety of conditions.

      Thus, the evidence-based, common treatments for curing depression and anxiety include medications, psychotherapy, and treatment programs.

      However, Yoga, as a complementary treatment, is credibly effective in reducing the symptoms of anxiety and depression.

    3. Transcendental Meditation

      Transcendental Meditation (TM) is one of the oldest forms of meditation dating back 5,000 years.

      This is a mantra-based technique that originated in the Vedic tradition of enlightenment in India.

      Now, what distinguishes Transcendental Meditation from other forms of meditation is the recitation of a mantra or a sound typically without any meaning. This mantra or sound is an important part of TM.

      A group of psychologists conducted a number of independent studies and concluded that TM resulted in a significant reduction in physiological arousal and anxiety and enhanced positivity.

      Moreover, since the 1970’s, around 700 studies have been published that document the effectiveness of Transcendental Meditation in reducing depression, anxiety, stress, improving academic performance, and school behavior.

      So how is the TM technique used for relaxation? Transcendental Meditation involves sitting with eyes closed for about 20 minutes twice a day and simultaneously reciting a mantra.

      This technique does not involve any sort of visualization or does not require concentration or focus.

      Rather, you recite a word or a phrase, typically called a mantra, that has no meaning. Mantra is a particular thought that is appropriate to an individual being.

      The practitioner makes use of this mantra or the sound and starts the process by first experiencing the thought of the mantra or the sound itself.

      Then gradually, he starts reducing the experience of the thought and moves one step ahead by experiencing the finer states of such a thought.

      This experience of the finer states of the thought continues till the time the practitioner doesn’t figure out the very source of such a thought and the conscious mind achieves the transcendental position.

      So all you need is to undertake a regular practice of TM.

      Case Study

      As per medical news today, a study included 34 participants, out of which 19 had to complete the two 20 minute TM Sessions a day for three months.

      The schedule consisted of one session in the morning and the other in the evening. However, the left-over 15 participants continued with their typical daily routines.

      As a part of the study, the researchers used psychometric questionnaires in order to figure out to what extent each participant can handle stressful situations.

      Besides using psychometric questionnaires, the researchers also carried out Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI).

      This was done to know the brain activity of the participants as well as to understand how various functional areas of the brain were interconnected.

      After 3 months, this process was repeated and the results were analyzed.

      Thus, it was observed that those participants who practiced Transcendental Meditation every day experienced less stress, depression, and anxiety.

      However, none of such changes were observed in the group of people who did not practice TM.

    4. Visualization Therapy

      Visualization Therapy also referred to as Guided Imagery, is a cognitive-behavioral meditation technique.

      In this technique, the practitioner undergoes a series of relaxation and breathing exercises that ultimately guide him to imagine relaxing scenes or series of experiences.

      These mental images act as guidelines to form a story inside the mind of the practitioner and hence it acts as a stimulant for creative imagination.

      Such creative and relaxing thought processes can be learned with practice and basically involve four components:

      • A guiding story to distract the mind of the practitioner from thoughts running inside his mind
      • An open and a relaxed state of mind for Visualization Therapy without any intervening thoughts
      • No worries about performance
      • Relaxed muscles with eyes closed and body free of any stress in an environment with minimal stimuli

      As per research, Visualization Therapy or Guided Imagery leads to an improvement in several physical as well as psychological conditions including anxiety, depression, insomnia, and ADHD.

      Mindfulness techniques such as Visualization interrupts the negative thoughts, powerful feelings, and spiraling cycles to overpower your mind.

      This is because when you visualize a scene, you behave as though you are actually present in that scene.

      Thus, Guided Imagery Technique is reported to showcase modification in the behavior of individuals practicing such a technique.

      These behavior modifications include:

      • Learning to relax
      • Regulating negative emotions as a result of unpleasant conditions such as loss of a job, financial crisis, death, etc.
      • Dealing with challenging situations
      • Becoming motivated
      • Examining ways and means to deal with situations leading to anxiety
    5. Progressive Muscle Relaxation

      As the name suggests, Progressive Muscle Relaxation is an exercise that relaxes your body and mind in a progressive manner.

      It involves a two-step process that relaxes your muscles and releases overall stress.

      The first step involves applying tension to a specific muscle in a specific part of your body.

      Say, for instance, you target the muscle group of your left hand. In order to apply tension to the left hand, take a slow, deep breath and then squeeze the muscles of your left hand as hard as you can just for five seconds.

      It is mandatory that you feel the tension in the muscles of your left hand.

      This means you need to make a tight fist. Simultaneously, you need to ensure that you do not tense the surrounding muscles.

      You just need to target the muscles of your left hand and not the surrounding muscles.

      Also, ensure that you are careful enough not to hurt yourself in the process.

      Now, after you make a tight fist just for five seconds, the next step is to release the fist and relax the tensed muscles.

      While you release your fist after holding on to it for five seconds, you need to exhale as well.

      Make sure that you feel your left-hand muscles becoming loose while releasing the fist.

      Now, the most important part of this exercise is to observe the difference between tension and relaxation.

      Initially, you might take time to learn to relax the body as well as understand the difference between tension and relaxation.

      Also, you might feel a bit uncomfortable while focusing on your body. But the more you practice, the more comfortable you get with the entire process.

      After you release your fist, relax your left-hand muscles for about 15 seconds.

      Subsequently, move on to the next muscle group, say lower leg and foot.

      Keep on repeating this tension-relaxation procedure for different muscle groups including, foot, leg, arm, chest, stomach, neck and shoulders, mouth, eyes, forehead, and buttocks.

    6. Resistance Training

      Resistance Training is also referred to as weight training or strength in training.

      This is a form of physical activity that improves your muscular fitness. How? You exercise a specific muscle or a muscle group using external resistance.

      The external resistance can be in the form of dumbbells, resistance bands, weight machines, your own bodyweight for squats or pushups, and weighted balls.

      These resistance forces are used to contract the muscles of your body and make them strong.

      The entire idea of Resistance Training is to increase strength, power, and endurance.

      A beginner can undertake Resistance Training 2-3 days per week while pros can exercise 4-6 days a week.

      The very principle that drives Resistance Training is that your body muscles would hustle to beat the pressure exerted by the external force.

      As per recent studies, Resistance Training performed with middle-aged women and elderly women have showcased that a 24-week program of Resistance Training has contributed significantly in reducing depression and improving overall health.

      Such studies indicate that exercise programs such as Resistance Training are capable of promoting both physical and mental health.

      This means that it is extremely important that you make Resistance Training a part of your daily workout schedule.

      Therefore, while creating a resistance exercise program for yourself, it is extremely important for you as a practitioner to keep in mind the following points:

      • Undertake Resistance Training at least twice a week.
      • Start RT with a moderate intensity level. Moderate intensity means when you can lift weights 10 to 15 times. Increase the RT intensity level gradually over a period of time.
      • Do two to three sets of RT with all the major muscle groups.
      • Beginners can start with weight machines. As and when their strength improves, they can add free weights.
    7. Tai Chi and Qi Gong

      Two of the well-known complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) that are gaining popularity and possess evidence of effectiveness are Tai Chi and Qi Gong.

      Tai Chi and Qi Gong are traditional Chinese practices that involve bodily movements as well as mental manipulations.

      These movements are quite gentle in nature and focus on relaxation, breathing, and concentration.

      • Qi Gong

        Qi Gong is an Asian form of Yoga that is performed mostly while standing, though there are certain sequences that are performed while you are seated.

        These exercises include a series of well-coordinated practices including body posture, breathing, movement, and meditation.

        All of these sequences have been designed in such a way so that the energy within is balanced by attaining deeply focused and relaxed states.

        Thus, Qi Gong comprises sets of repetitive movements that are used for stretching the body, increasing circulation of blood and other fluids, improving balance, and building awareness about body movement.

        Qi Gong has been used as CAM in order to treat various medical conditions like high blood pressure, hypertension, Type II Diabetes, cardiac diseases, etc.

        However, the evidence indicating its efficacy to treat emotional challenges and enhance psychological well-being is not sufficient.

        Although few studies suggest that Qi Gong may have beneficial effects while treating a range of psychological measures like anxiety, depression, stress, and negative mood.

      • Tai Chi

        Tai Chi is a type of mindfulness-based exercise that utilizes slow, gentle movements wherein the practitioner shifts his or her weight between feet while moving the arms.

        This form of mindful based exercise no doubt stems from Qi Gong but is still different as it combines components of martial arts with meditation, imagery, and deep breathing.

        Tai Chi has been used as a therapy to treat various ailments. But most of all, the literature reports the therapeutic benefits of this traditional Chinese exercise for improving memory, depression, anxiety, arthritis, concentration, and blood pressure.

        As per one of the studies, Tai Chi is a promising Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) that provides relaxation benefits to people suffering from anxiety disorders.

        This is because this form of exercise combines low physical impact body movements with deep breathing and mental concentration.

      A paper released by the University of Vermont states that both Tai Chi and Qi Gong are two such Complementary and Alternative Medicines that are quite effective as therapy approaches.

      There are two reasons responsible for their effectiveness:

      • Firstly, both the techniques function as a low-impact, aerobic exercise that is effective in treating depression-like symptoms.
      • Secondly, both Tai Chi and Qi Gong comprise mindful and meditative aspects that allow practitioners to become more aware of their thoughts, feelings, and bodies.

      Though the researchers indicate the efficacy of the techniques in enhancing various psychological states like stress, anxiety, mood, depression, cognitive functioning, etc, they also acknowledged that thorough work must be carried out to conclude whether these techniques can be used as primary and secondary approaches to other disorders.

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