Better Mental Health Starts With Physical Activity

COVID has brought on what some may call another global pandemic—mental health. Focus on you this year; boost your mental health by maintaining a physically active lifestyle.

It is an understatement to say that the past two years have been challenging. The pandemic has affected everyone in various ways, but no one has remained untouched. Evidence of the physical toll of the pandemic is brought to light by the sheer numbers of people that have contracted COVID and suffered from its unfortunate health consequences.

With all of the attention given to the physical health outcomes of the pandemic, it’s easy to overlook the effect it has had on our mental health and well-being. An increase in individual depression and collective societal post-traumatic stress has been brought on by:

  • the constant bombardment of conflicting information,

  • social isolation,

  • anxiety surrounding disease contraction, and

  • grief over the loss of loved ones.

We all need to give ourselves the chance to heal from the hardships presented by the unprecedented times we have experienced.

So, how do we initiate our recovery? How can we emerge from the aftermath of the COVID pandemic in a better place than we started? There’s one simple, cost-effective answer: physical activity.

Physical Activity Will Elevate Global Mental Health

While healing is always multi-faceted, it is well-studied and evidence-based that physical exercise and a fitness regimen can improve global mental health.

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Physical exercise has become a pillar in our mental well-being. Being active is proven to:

  • boost mood,

  • reduce anxiety and stress,

  • improve sleep and energy levels,

  • make us mentally more alert,

  • sharpen our memory skills, and

  • improve our overall self-esteem.

Prior to the pandemic, over 40 million people in the U.S. suffered from anxiety disorders annually. Researchers estimate that 16.2 million people in the U.S. will suffer a major depressive disorder each year. The pandemic has only served to increase those numbers.

Now more than ever, our nation is facing a mental health crisis. An easy way to help combat this growing issue is through exercise. Research shows that sustaining a regular fitness regimen reduces the overall risk of mental illness and improves depression and anxiety. Physical activity is a low-cost and effective way for us to engage in the battle against mental and behavioral health illnesses.

Exercise & Mental Health: A Win-Win Situation

But, I don’t have time to exercise, you say?

The good news is that you don’t have to run a marathon to reap the mental health benefits of exercise. Studies have shown that 30-60 minutes of light aerobic activity between 3-5 times per week is enough to improve our mental well-being—45 minutes may be ideal.

Even though many of us lead busy lives with hectic schedules, 45 minutes of physical activity three times per week is achievable. We all need to prioritize our mental and physical health, and now we know that maintaining a physically active lifestyle can kill two birds with one stone.

I believe everyone can agree that it’s time to get on the road to recovery. The time has come to move on from the events over the past two years. We need to see each other again and start to normalize.

Gyms and fitness centers provide a great outlet to get moving and exercise and socialize all in one facility. So, as we move forward this year, let’s all commit to moving again. Physical activity will make your body feel better, but you’ll also be happier and less stressed.

Enjoy the freedom to exercise again together and take a break from the isolation caused by the pandemic. I think we’ve all earned it.

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Author avatar

Lee Johnson

Lee Johnson, M.D., is board certified in emergency medicine and has practiced emergency medicine for more than 20 years. He currently serves as a regional medical director for Envision Healthcare and is in his second term as a state representative in the Arkansas General Assembly.