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Holistic health is a multidimensional approach to wellness that encourages people to recognize and address the whole person, including the mental, physical, social, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual sides. Holistic health practitioners believe that physical, mental, emotional, and all other aspects of health are interconnected. It is well known that exercise can help maintain good physical health, but it can benefit mental health. Exercise of all kinds can have significant effects on our mental health and even help improve symptoms of some challenging mental health conditions.

The science of exercise and mental health

Physical activity may decrease the effects of stress, improve mood and mental health, and even help improve cognition and memory. Exercise releases endorphins, which are well known for their stress-relieving effects. According to the American Psychological Association, the mental health benefits of exercise might also be due to increased norepinephrine, a neuromodulator that can help the brain deal with stress more effectively. Researchers are looking at many possible links between brain chemicals and exercise; another theory proposes that physical activity releases serotonin and dopamine, which can improve mood.

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Benefits of low-intensity exercise

Some low-intensity exercises, like yoga and Pilates, can also have mental health benefits. Yoga emphasizes moving your body while focusing on breathing and centering the mind, which can help reduce anxiety and depression. It may even help your brain cells develop new connections, which can help with various cognitive skills like learning and memory. Research shows that pilates can have similar effects, highlighting the importance of mind and body awareness.

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Exercise as a stress reliever

Exercise reduces the amount of stress hormones, the body produces, including like cortisol and adrenaline, and stimulates the production of chemicals that make us feel good, like endorphins. Exercise also keeps our bodies busy, which helps distract our minds from worrying about things. Any exercise can help with stress relief, too, whether walking, jogging, or more vigorous workouts.

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Enhancing self-esteem through fitness

Research shows that regular exercise is an effective way to boost self-esteem. There are many possible reasons for this. Exercise can make you feel stronger, give you more energy, and improve your body image. Feeling fit and healthy can have other benefits, too, like increasing motivation, reducing mental fatigue, and helping you deal with challenging emotions like frustration and anger.

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Combating depression with physical activity

Physical activity can improve depression symptoms. Research conducted to examine the relationship between mood disorders and physical inactivity, lack of energy, and sleep problems found that physical activity improved study participants' mood, how much energy they had, and how long they slept. As depression can affect sleep quality and energy, this study indicated that physical activity can improve multiple depression symptoms. These effects may be due to the release of neurotransmitters and other chemicals in the brain.

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The power of routine in mental wellness

Studies show that routine exercise is best for mental health. Establishing a routine has many benefits. Generally, people are likely to choose the quickest, easiest, or most enjoyable option when presented with a choice, but the fastest, easiest, or most enjoyable thing is not always the one that is best for you. The goal of a routine is to make it so fewer decisions have to be made. When exercise is a part of your day without you having to choose it or consciously think about it, you are more likely to get it done.

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Mind-body connection in fitness

The physical health benefits of exercise are pretty widely known. Exercise can help with weight management and reduce the risks of many health issues, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, infectious diseases, and some cancers. The mental health benefits of exercise are becoming more widely known, demonstrating why we should take a more holistic approach to fitness and overall well-being. Research shows physical activity improves the symptoms of depression and anxiety and may even have some benefits for people with schizophrenia or alcohol dependence disorders.

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Starting your fitness journey

Starting an exercise routine may be one of the best things you can do for your physical and mental health. To get started, measure your current fitness level. Knowing your current fitness level can help you plan your routine and give you something to measure your progress against. You can consider things like how long it takes you to walk a mile, your resting heart rate, or your BMI. Then, come up with a plan. Think about your goals and how you plan to meet them. Try to exercise most days of the week, and try to get the recommended 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity and two days of muscle-strengthening activity a week. Start slow and advance at your own pace. Schedule time to exercise as you would any other appointment, and try to make it fun. The more fun you have, the more likely you are to stick with it. Try running on the treadmill while watching your favorite TV show or going outside while listening to your favorite podcast.

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The role of social connections in exercise

There are benefits to working out with other people. Working out with a partner may help you feel more motivated, be more adventurous by trying new things, and be more consistent in your routine. When someone else is counting on you to show up, you may be more likely to do so. Taking a workout class or joining an exercise group can add a competitive element that makes you want to push yourself a little more while also receiving support from the people around you.

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Mindful movement for mental health

Exercises that integrate mindfulness with physical activity can have their own benefits. For example, yoga has many effects on the mind and body, including improving flexibility, relieving back pain, improving heart health, helping you relax, improving sleep, and managing stress. Tai chi also has many benefits for physical and mental health. It can improve balance, reduce pain, and may have positive effects on cognitive impairment.

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Physical health as the foundation of wellness

Regular physical activity can have significant effects on physical health. Some of these include weight management and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and infectious diseases. Exercise also helps strengthen bones, joints, and muscles, which is essential to help ensure you are able to stay mobile and do your daily activities as you age. Maintaining a balanced approach to fitness is vital. Try to include aerobic fitness, strength training, core exercises, flexibility, and stretching in your routine, and remember, some movement is better than no movement.

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Emotional health and exercise

Research has found that exercise enhances mood while decreasing stress and that people who exercise regularly have a better frame of mind than those who do not. While researchers have not found a consistent link between mood and exercise, for some people, a positive mood and a good frame of mind can help manage emotions and build resistance to handle the challenges in their lives.

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Mental health benefits of regular exercise

Regular exercise can also have significant effects on cognitive functions. For example, studies show that physical activity can improve executive processes, attention, working memory, linguistic understanding, cognitive flexibility, and inhibition control in children. In adults, it can improve episodic memory, global cognitive functions, fluidity of words, and processing speed. Exercise is also inversely correlated to the onset of dementia and the risk of cognitive decline. Other research has found that exercise also enhances creativity.

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Holistic wellness in the workplace

Research shows holistic wellness programs in corporate environments may have some benefits. In this study, employees who participated in a workplace wellness program had higher rates of self-reported engagement in regular exercise and active weight management. Still, the data did not show any difference in sleep quality, food choices, clinical health markers (including blood pressure, BMI, and cholesterol), job performance, or absenteeism. Researchers caution, however, that these results may have been different if performed in other workplaces and if the study had gone longer than 18 months.

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Embracing a holistic fitness approach

Most people understand that exercise is good for physical health, but it can have significant mental health benefits. Adopting a holistic approach to fitness that involves the mind and body can help relieve stress, improve self-esteem, and combat depression/ Establishing a regular exercise routine can be an excellent way to keep both your mind and body in shape.

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Disclaimer

This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.