There’s plenty of evidence that demonstrates that physical health and mental health are connected. Psychologist and board member of the Association for Applied Sport Psychology Hillary Cauthen calls exercise a form of “consistent coping.” It helps minds prepare for stress or curveballs that life may throw at us. However, on the individual level, the kind of exercise you’re doing makes a difference.
“Any movement is wonderful for your natural boost, but when you dive a little bit deeper into where you hold tension or what you’re struggling with, you can adapt those workouts, and that increases the motivation to sustain [an active lifestyle],” she explains.
Here are her two top tips on curating your workouts so that they best support your mental health needs.
Be mindful while working out
High-intensity workouts can result in a rush of positive emotions and a clear mind, however, it’s important to consider your emotions so that you choose an activity that matches how you’re feeling. Struggling with anxiety? Perhaps opt for yoga or pilates—activities that help you feel centered and focuses on breathing.
If you’re more into high-intensity fitness regimes, then be sure to balance those intense bursts of physical output with another form of mental escape. Cauthen recommends taking the time to do some reflective journaling after a heavy gym session or run so that you can distill your emotions and figure out why you felt the need to get out of your mind through exercise.
Mix it up to avoid mental monotony
Even though the link between physical fitness and mental wellbeing is undeniable, make sure to keep things fresh by switching up your workouts can help you avoid developing a lack of interest which can turn into tediousness.
Repetition can get boring and your mind and body will get used to making the same movements, so surprising yourself with a new kind of workout is a good way to strengthen your mental health as well as exercise your body.
For instance, if you tend to gravitate toward running or HIIT classes, then make yourself slow down enough for a yoga session once in a while to balance out the constant rush. Or, if you normally like to work out alone, challenge yourself by signing up for an outdoor group fitness class.
If the thought of making such changes gives you stress or anxiety, then start a bit smaller by shaking up your regular workout in simple ways. This could be something as small as taking out your headphones and focusing on your surroundings while you jog instead of listening to music.
According to Cauthen, intentionally focusing your brain so that you reflect on your feelings and mental space while avoiding monotony can supercharge your workouts so that they’re more fulfilling and satisfying, both physically and mentally.