Hey, you know what your brain needs? Like, besides blood and oxygen? Exercise. Nah, not those weekend sudoku/crossword binges you go on (although those are good for you,too), we mean good old-fashioned, heart rate boosting physical activity. From low-impact recreation to hardcore workouts, there’s something everyone can do to make their brain (and body) healthier. Here are 12 exercise-related ways to boost your happiness, mental health, and well-being.
What’s easier than breathing? The practice of mindfulness paired with breathwork has been shown to alleviate stress, reduce anxiety, and even fight depression and PTSD. Make a habit of meditating for just five minutes every morning. Start with a class or try one of the many mindfulness apps that you literally have at your fingertips!
If you’re one of the 30 to 40% of Canadians who experience occasional insomnia, then you know what a sleepless night (or a half-dozen sleepless nights) can do to your mental health. Moderate exercise—like a brisk walk—promotes sleep. Ideally, you’ll want do it right after dinner or approximately five hours before you go to bed to give your body time to cool down and send the signal that it’s bedtime.
This low-impact activity has such a massive impact on your brain’s well-being that its effects have been compared to Prozac. Not only does it release endorphins, it also encourages new brain cells to grow in a part of the brain that can sometimes shut down when subjected to constant stress.
One of the best cures for the blues? Getting outside and immersing yourself in the natural world. The fresh air, open spaces, and beauty of the outdoor world has been proven to inspire creativity, improve productivity, and even lower your risk of suffering from depression.
No time to take long leisurely strolls around your neighbourhood? Work exercise into your daily routine buy turning your commute into a workout. No need to suit up in spandex (this isn’t the Tour de France). A moderately paced bike ride will still give you an endorphin boost right when you need it most (aka Monday morning).
Practicing Tai Chi
As you age, group activities such as team sports may become difficult to keep up with. For older people or people recovering from injuries, the practice of Tai Chi has been shown to have many of the same benefits of yoga while also reducing loneliness and the depression that it can cause.
The great thing about yoga is that there’s a practice to suit nearly everyone—from gentle seated sequences, to restorative classes, to hardcore flow classes done in rooms heated to 35 degrees. Whether you want to focus on mindfulness or really sweat out your anxiety and stress, yoga is one of the best ways to do it.
For those who demand that their exercise routine be anything but, well, routine, a dance class will do the trick. Muscle memory and cognitive thought processes are both at play when you’re dancing. The activity has been shown to fend off chronic dizziness and improve your memory… And then there’s all those bountiful endorphins, too.
When you’re seeking that feeling of leaving your troubles behind you—by outracing them—there’s nothing better than a long run. For people who are recovering from addiction, this kind of exercise has also been shown to be a powerful (if temporary) distraction from alcohol or drug cravings.
Climbing is the thinking person’s sport—it’s a physical activity that requires you to look for the right pieces to solve a puzzle (i.e. getting to the top of that wall in front of you). This type of exercise is great for the part of your brain that does all the learning and memory work. It acts to up the important brain chemistry needed for those functions.
Joining a team
When it comes to team sports, two factors work together to improve your mental health. The first is the social aspect and support that comes from being a part of a team—you’re more likely to stick with physical activity if you’ve got a group of people cheering you on. The second is all the regular benefits you get from activity: endorphins, reduced stress, and reduced anxiety.
Fighting it out
Martial arts have long been connected to mental and spiritual wellness and science can prove it. Research shows benefits for self-esteem, emotional stability, and lower levels of anxiety and depression. Plus, sometimes it just feels satisfying to take a swing at a punching bag or spar with an opponent.
It’s time we started talking openly about our mental health. Join the conversation on Bell Let’s Talk Day, January 30, and help end the stigma around mental illness. For every text message (not iMessage) sent and mobile or long-distance call made by Bell Canada, Bell Aliant and Bell MTS customers, Bell will donate five cents to Canadian mental health initiatives. The same goes for anyone sending a tweet using #BellLetsTalk, watching the Bell Let’s Talk Day video on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or Snapchat, or using the Bell Let’s Talk Facebook frame or Snapchat filter. But talking about it is just the first step: Visit letstalk.bell.ca for more ways you can effect change and build awareness around mental health.