I Exercised Every Day For a Month — This Is How It Improved My Mental Health
While we all know about the many benefits of exercise for our physical health — from burning fat to improving metabolism and heart health, to supporting digestion and immune function — I’d argue that the mental benefits of exercise are even more important and powerful.
During the Sydney lockdown, I committed to exercising every day for a month to see how it impacted my mental health. Here’s what happened…
I Felt Less Stressed and Anxious
Many studies show those who exercise regularly have better emotional and mental health as well as reduced rates of mental illness. Regular workouts improve symptoms of anxiety and depression, among other mental illnesses, and help regulate mood and emotional tolerance.
As someone who struggles with anxiety and feels chronically stressed, particularly during busy periods of life, I can absolutely say my stress levels decreased dramatically after a month of daily exercise.
If I’d had a horrid day at work, I’d simply sweat it all out. I felt so much lighter and brighter once I was done. Instead of ruminating on the sources of my stress, I simply moved my body and felt the stress leave.
I Slept Like a Baby
Exercise has also been shown to improve sleep quality — something I definitely experienced first-hand. When the time came to crawl into my warm bed, I was out like a light most evenings. Instead of lying there with thoughts running around my head, my sleep quality and quantity improved dramatically.
Having a physical outlet for my stress not only helped me feel less stressed during the day but actively helped me sleep better by night too. We also know good sleep helps regulate mood and supports mental health and cognitive function, so I doubled down on those benefits too!
I Felt Happier and More Content
This was a two-fold benefit I experienced every single day throughout my month of consistent exercise.
You know the feeling when you’re lying in your warm bed, reluctant to drag yourself up to go and workout in the freezing cold, dark, wintery morning outside? Well, so do I! But I learned to look forward to that feeling of accomplishment after ticking off my daily workout, and personally, this gave me the motivation and the discipline to get up time and time again, get moving and set myself up for a day of productivity and success.
Then, there were the feel-good hormones I experienced. When you exercise, your body produces a few different “happy” hormones and neurotransmitters, including endorphins and serotonin, which improve your mood and boost feelings of happiness and contentment.
Endorphins act as a natural painkiller, and serotonin is the key hormone responsible for stabilising your mood, so producing more of these is, literally, the key to feeling happy! I felt euphoric and accomplished after each and every workout, thanks to these two gems. It was a no-brainer — daily exercise was excellent for my happiness, mental health and state of mind.
My Self-Esteem and Body Image Improved
Before you ask, no, this experiment wasn’t about losing weight or fat. These weren’t the things that improved my self-esteem or body image. Instead, being consistent and committed to my daily exercise was the thing that left me feeling fantastic.
Again, that feeling of achievement from completing a gruelling workout, beating my reps or weight targets, and even just getting it done, improved how I felt about myself and my body. I learned to be grateful for all the amazing things my body could do.
Instead of scrutinising my imperfections in the mirror, I began to look at my body as strong and capable. And I felt healthier too, further enhancing my confidence.
I Felt Connected to Others
Of course, during lockdown, gyms were closed so I took to hitting up a few different boot camps in my local area and sometimes just training myself at my local park.
This gave me the chance to get outside and connect with others, whether they were doing the boot camp alongside me, or just doing their own workout nearby at the same park. We bonded over a shared goal and interest: fitness!
This reduced any feelings of loneliness, isolation and social withdrawal I would have otherwise felt during this period of lockdown, and meant I formed connections and even friendships with new people — further improving my mental health and overall happiness!
As humans, we crave connection and interaction and exercise is a fantastic way to get your fix!
Don’t get me wrong, during my month of daily exercise, there were times when I just couldn’t be bothered, didn’t have the energy for a challenging workout, or wanted to throw in the towel. But I persevered and reaped the rewards.
Exercise is so beneficial for supporting your mood, emotional and mental wellbeing, and even improving how you feel about yourself and your body. Particularly in times like lockdowns, or when you’re feeling isolated, stuck and missing the gym, it becomes more important than ever to maintain a consistent fitness routine. This way, you can continue experiencing the benefits of those feel-good hormones, and boosting your happiness, confidence and social connections.
Having said that, rest days are just as important! I can tell you, after a month straight, my body was crying out for a rest, to recover and repair my exhausted muscles. Incorporating rest days into your fitness routine is key for enhancing the results and benefits from your workouts because after all, life is all about balance!
Want some motivation to get you started on your fitness journey? Get your FREE 5 day trial with Fitness First, including heaps of online class options, today! There’s never been a better time to put yourself first!