How Exercise can Transform Mental and Behavioral Health Therapy

There’s always been a positive relationship between exercise and mental health. Increased studies in recent years have indicated that there’s an especially strong correlation between fitness and therapy, especially therapy for behavioral or mental health benefit. Unfortunately, many therapists, counselors and psychologists don’t take the time to speak with their patients about the importance of fitness, exercise and a healthy diet, as it can pertain to long-term well-being.

We’re looking to change to provide that lost exposure. You deserve to know that even occasional, light exercise can yield positive dividends for your short and long-term health and wellness. And when exercise is performed either as a form of therapy, or in parallel with ongoing behavioral or mental therapy, it can have a significant impact on your outlook.

What kind of exercise will help my therapy?

As a general rule, you’re looking to find exercise methods that can do two things: increase your heart rate, and improve your mood. There’s definitely a place for long-distance running, but if it makes you miserable, then it’s probably not the best option to supplement your therapy.

Look to combine aerobic and anaerobic activity, both practices that have been proven to bolster mental health. Anaerobic activities are defined by shorter bursts, anything that focuses on cardio or increased intensity. By contrast, aerobic activities are sustained for longer periods of time, but are usually of lower intensity.

For those higher-intensity anaerobic workouts, look to indoor activities like weightlifting or core exercises. Some outdoor activities like rock climbing, interval sprints, short-distance running and biking also qualify as anaerobic workouts, and can be massively helpful in subsidizing the positive effects that therapy can have on your mental health.

There are also a lot of options when it comes to longer-duration, lower-intensity aerobic activities. Consider going for a healthy walk or jog, or taking the bike out for a comfortable ride around town. Make use of an elliptical machine, frequent the local pool for a swim or check out local yoga or dance studios for beginner classes: all are great aerobic activity options, for easy exercise that can help complement your therapy in all the right ways.

How does exercise benefit behavioral or mental health?

There are so many ways you can find time during the day for aerobic or anaerobic exercise. However, how is exercise really helping your therapy? On the surface, they seem like polar opposite practices: exercise calls for increased physical fitness, while therapy involves remedying behavioral or mental health challenges.

Though different in many ways, exercise helps emphasize the effects that regular therapy can have. Exercise yields massive benefits on the body separate from therapy, including an increased sense of self-worth and an increased frequency of healthy relationships.

Specifically, exercise helps make permanent many of the changes that begin in therapy. In fact, regular exercise can help you accomplish all of the following:

  • Reduce symptoms of depression
  • Reduce symptoms of anxiety
  • Reduce frequency of drug cravings
  • Improve mood and sleep quality
  • Improve physical health and metabolism
  • Improve energy retention

In addition, some studies have found decreased drug use rates among youth who regularly exercise. In short, therapy helps to point struggling individuals in the right direction. It helps to replace damaging behaviors with productive ones. Exercise then furthers the effects of that therapy, improving physical and mental health along the way.

Overcoming barriers to exercise

We totally understand: motivating yourself to exercise once can be difficult. Motivating yourself to work out day after day sometimes sounds impossible. Whether you’re not sure how to exercise, struggling to find the time, or you simply reach the end of the day before you remember to exercise, there are a thousand legitimate excuses that can come between you and regular fitness.

It’s important to create a daily or a weekly workout plan, to prioritize time during your day for even a few minutes of exercise. If you find yourself constantly forgetting to exercise, try associating your daily workouts with another activity. For example, take a 5-minute walk after every meal. Or before an evening shower, head outside for a 10-minute run. Even if it’s only a few minutes down the closest trail or a quick jog around the neighborhood, you’re helping restore a natural chemical balance in your brain.

Exercise to help mental health: just start!

The most difficult step when it comes to exercise is simply finding the desire within yourself to begin the workout. Once you start, once you’re one minute into your run or your walk or your swim or your bike ride, the most difficult part is already over. Set reminders on sticky notes or automatic calendar reminders, and when it comes time to exercise, let your drive for recovery be bigger than your drive to find another excuse.

And finally, don’t be afraid to find a healthy reward for your workouts! Finding time to exercise is difficult. If you can consistently dedicate a portion of your day toward exercise, the results are self-fulfilling. Still, whether it’s an extra 10 minutes of sleep, buying a new outfit or any other health-conscious reward, it’s always easier to keep yourself on track if you know there’s a positive consequence waiting.

Ultimately, the combination of exercise and therapy exist together to help you do one thing: take back control of your own life. Through exercise, you can help make permanent the changes you commit to starting in therapy. Replace destructive habits with healthy, productive decisions and watch the self-control return, especially if you can pair even a few minutes of exercise with existing therapy.