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Movement and Mental Health: The Benefits of Aerobic Exercise and Yoga

Mental health has become an increasingly important issue in today's society, as more and more people are becoming aware of the importance of maintaining good mental health. In recent years, there has been a greater focus on breaking down the stigma surrounding mental health issues and increasing access to mental health care services. This has led to a greater understanding of the importance of self-care, mindfulness, and stress reduction techniques in maintaining good mental health.

However, despite these efforts, mental health continues to be a significant issue, with millions of people around the world struggling with conditions such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Regular exercise has been shown to be an effective tool for maintaining good mental health, reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression, and promoting overall well being.

Movement for Mental Health

Exercise has long been known to be beneficial for physical health, but it also has powerful effects on mental health. In particular, aerobic exercise and yoga have been shown to be effective in reducing symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress. Let's explore the benefits of these types of movement and their connection to mental health.

Research has shown that movement can improve your mood, reduce anxiety and depression, and enhance cognitive function. A study conducted at Johns Hopkins University found that those who exercised regularly had an improved quality of life and a greater sense of well-being than those who did not exercise regularly. The researchers also found that regular exercise was associated with an improvement in their mental health.

It is recommended that adults perform 150 minutes of exercise per week, which is equivalent to two and a half hours. This time can be spread throughout the week or divided between a few days. An easy approach to getting the recommended daily amount of physical activity is 30 minutes a day, Monday through Friday. Adding weekly workouts to your schedule may look like 30 minutes of rollerblading, jump roping, or water aerobics.

No matter how you decide to enjoy physical activity each week, have fun and remind yourself of the many benefits that come along with an elevated heart rate:

  1. Improved cardiovascular health: Elevating heart rate through exercise strengthens the heart muscle, increases blood flow, and improves circulation. This can lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack, stroke, and high blood pressure.

  2. Increased calorie burn: Elevating heart rate through exercise increases the number of calories burned during the workout. This can lead to weight loss or weight management, which in turn can lower the risk of diseases such as diabetes, cancer, and arthritis.

  3. Improved endurance: Regularly elevating heart rate through exercise can improve endurance and stamina, making it easier to perform physical tasks for longer periods of time without getting tired.

  4. Improved mood: Elevating heart rate through exercise releases endorphins, which are natural mood-boosting chemicals that can reduce stress and anxiety, improve mood, and enhance overall well-being.

  5. Improved cognitive function: Elevating heart rate through exercise can improve cognitive function, including memory, attention, and decision-making. This is because exercise increases blood flow to the brain, which can help to protect against cognitive decline and improve mental acuity.

  6. Improved sleep: Regular exercise can improve the quality of sleep, making it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night. This can lead to better overall health and well-being.

Benefits of Aerobic Exercise

While any type of physical activity can provide health benefits, aerobic exercise, also known as cardio, is especially effective in improving cardiovascular health, burning calories, and boosting mood. Aerobic exercise is defined as any activity that elevates heart rate and increases oxygen consumption for a sustained period of time, such as running, cycling, or swimming. These types of exercises offer a wide range of benefits and can be adapted to meet the needs and fitness levels of individuals at any age to provide the following benefits:

  1. Reduces symptoms of depression: Aerobic exercise has been shown to increase levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which are known to play a role in mood regulation.

  2. Reduces anxiety: Aerobic exercise has also been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety by promoting relaxation and reducing stress hormones like cortisol.

  3. Improves cognitive function: Aerobic exercise has been shown to improve cognitive function, including attention, memory, and executive function.

  4. Boosts self-esteem: Aerobic exercise can also boost self-esteem and confidence by promoting a sense of accomplishment and mastery.

Some examples of aerobic exercise include:

  • Running or jogging

  • Cycling

  • Swimming

  • Dancing

  • High-intensity interval training (HIIT)

  • Jumping rope

Benefits of Yoga and Meditation

Yoga is a practice that has been shown to offer numerous benefits for mental health. The practice of yoga involves a combination of physical postures, breathwork, and meditation, all of which can help to reduce stress and anxiety, improve mood, and enhance overall wellbeing.

Studies have shown that practicing yoga can lower levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in the body, leading to a reduction in symptoms of anxiety and depression. Additionally, the meditative aspects of yoga can help to increase mindfulness and self-awareness, which can lead to a greater sense of inner peace and calm. The physical postures and breathwork involved in yoga also help to increase body awareness and promote relaxation, reducing tension in both the body and the mind. Overall, the practice of yoga offers numerous benefits for mental health, making it an excellent complement to aerobic exercise in a comprehensive wellness routine.

Benefits of Yoga on Stress & the Mind

Yoga is a mind-body practice that combines physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation. Here are some of the mental health and emotional benefits of yoga:

  1. Reduces stress: Yoga has been shown to reduce stress by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for relaxation and stress reduction.

  2. Improves mood: Yoga has also been shown to improve mood by increasing levels of neurotransmitters like GABA, which is known to have anxiolytic and antidepressant effects.

  3. Enhances mindfulness: Yoga can also enhance mindfulness, which is the practice of being present and aware in the moment. This can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.

  4. Improves sleep: Yoga has been shown to improve sleep quality by reducing stress and promoting relaxation.

Some examples of yoga practices include:

  • Hatha yoga

  • Vinyasa yoga

  • Restorative yoga

  • Kundalini yoga

  • Ashtanga yoga

Join our weekly beginner’s yoga class every Sunday, free of charge. Or, check out our newest channel, yoga with Deepika Jain. Deepika teaches all of the above mentioned types of yoga, and more. She’s a resident of India and earned her diploma in Advanced Yoga Studies from the AVIYOG Institute.

The Connection between Aerobic Exercise and Yoga

While aerobic exercise and yoga may seem like very different types of movement, they actually share some commonalities. Both types of movement can:

  • Improve mood and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety

  • Promote relaxation and reduce stress

  • Boost self-esteem and confidence

  • Improve cognitive function

In fact, some yoga practices, such as vinyasa or power yoga, can be quite aerobic and provide similar benefits to traditional cardio. Additionally, many people find that combining aerobic exercise with yoga can be a powerful way to enhance their physical and mental health.

Mental health and movement

Aerobic exercise and yoga are two powerful practices that offer numerous benefits for mental health. Aerobic exercise, through its ability to elevate heart rate and increase oxygen consumption, can help to reduce stress, improve mood, and enhance overall well-being.

Similarly, yoga, with its combination of physical postures, breathwork, and meditation, can help to reduce stress and anxiety, increase mindfulness and self-awareness, and promote relaxation in both the body and mind. When combined, aerobic exercise and yoga can provide a comprehensive wellness routine that addresses both physical and mental health. Whether practiced together or separately, both forms of exercise can provide a valuable tool for maintaining mental health and enhancing overall well-being.

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