When thinking of exercise, most people focus on the physical benefits, such as increased energy/metabolism, weight loss, bone health, and disease prevention. Exercise is a physical activity that increases the heart rate and sustains or improves overall health. For women, exercise effectively reduces the risk of coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. It also helps to maintain healthy bones, muscles, and joints (critical for postmenopausal women) and control joint swelling and pain.
However, numerous mental health benefits are associated with regular physical activity. Mood disorders can affect anyone, but women face the unique challenges of hormonal imbalances, postpartum depression/anxiety, and the overall stress of juggling various roles and responsibilities. As expected, there has also been a rise in mood disorder diagnoses following the collective trauma of Covid.
There are various tools that can help stabilize mood: prescribed antidepressants, supplements, therapy, stress reduction, correcting nutrient deficiencies, and having a support group. Moderate exercise is one very effective yet often overlooked tool that can improve mood and help prevent the development of mood disorders, such as anxiety and depression. This blog post will address the various benefits of exercise for women’s mental health, and provide recommendations for sustainably incorporating daily movement.
Elevated levels of stress is a risk factor for both behavioral health and physical disorders. As the stress hormone cortisol rises, it also throws other hormones off balance. Unfortunately, this can make women more susceptible to having mood disorders, such as anxiety and moderate depression. As a natural stress reliever, exercise releases the “feel-good hormones” or endorphins. It’s also a form of mindfulness (stress reduction technique), as stressors can fade into the background when focused on a physical activity. To further enhance your mental well-being, consider exploring additional stress reduction techniques, such as the proven benefits of journaling or incorporating womens health supplements into your self-care routine.
Why is exercise good for mental health? Regular exercise has been shown to be equally as effective as antidepressants in boosting mood. Exercise promotes the release of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. These chemicals are crucial for regulating mood. Increasing these levels through movement can contribute to feelings of happiness and overall well-being. Seeing progression in fitness level/strength and accomplishing fitness goals can also boost self-esteem and confidence.
Inadequate sleep puts overall health at risk, including mental health and wellness. Different phases of a woman’s life, such as postpartum and menopause, can also disrupt sleep. Exercise can contribute to more restorative sleep by regulating circadian rhythms and reducing insomnia by releasing melatonin. By reducing stress, exercise also helps to quiet the mind before bed, helping women fall asleep more easily and stay asleep. Avoiding vigorous exercise and opting for more relaxing movements, such as yoga or gentle stretching before bed, soothe the mind and body wind down in preparation for sleep. Physical activity is also tiring and can help the body feel more prepared for sleep at bedtime. Restorative sleep helps women better manage emotions and improves cognitive function.
We already discussed how regular exercise lowers cortisol and improves sleep, which are important for regulating hormones. Various reproductive health issues, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, and infertility, have been shown to improve with exercise. For PCOS and infertility in particular, exercise and increased muscle mass leads to less insulin resistance, which promotes regular ovulation. Exercise is also helpful during menopause and enhances the effect of estrogen replacement therapy.
Engaging with the community through exercise keeps women accountable but also acts as a barrier to isolation and loneliness. Friendship and meaningful connections are an integral part of mental well-being. Exercise can not only improve physical health but it can provide access to community and social interaction through gyms, group fitness classes, sports teams, or workout groups
How to Incorporate Exercise Into Daily Regimen
It can initially feel overwhelming when trying to start or increase an exercise routine. We know that the pros far outweigh the cons, but any life change is difficult in the beginning. It’s important to start small with any change and to focus on what feels attainable. For someone who does not work out at all, it is more realistic to set a goal to walk more. Starting with 15 minutes of walking 3x/week is a small goal that will result in huge benefits. Achieving a small goal boosts confidence so that other goals can be set instead of trying to attain a large goal which can lead to disappointment and giving up. By slowly increasing your activity every week or even every few weeks, progress will continue to be made.
Types of Exercise to Try
Regarding being consistent with exercise, it’s important to focus on what feels good and brings YOU joy. This will be different for everyone. It’s important to consult your healthcare provider before starting a new exercise regimen if you suffer from any health conditions or poor mental health. For women new to exercise, consulting with a personal trainer can help you learn the basics and avoid injury. Then, try different workouts until you find the one you enjoy. The best part is that exercise can be done from anywhere.
If going to the gym isn’t an option, at-home workouts can be found on YouTube, or a brisk walk can be done during lunch. The goal is to move more, so taking the stairs instead of the elevator can make a difference. Turning on music and having a dance party is one way to have fun while moving and being present in the moment. Other options for exercise include running, strength training, cycling, swimming, pilates, and yoga. For postmenopausal women, strength training is critical for bone health, but this can be achieved with weights, resistance bands, body weight, or pilates/yoga.
By incorporating regular movement into their routines, women can benefit from managing depression, reduced stress, improved mood, restorative sleep, increased self-esteem, and community support. Exercise is a holistic approach to mental health that can be combined with other tools, such as the pH-D® Feminine Health Holistic Menopause Support and Women’s Health Probiotic supplements, that promote a healthier and happier life. The Holistic Menopausal Support supplement promotes the reduction of mood swings and vasomotor symptoms (hot flashes/night sweats), which can result in more restorative sleep and increased energy to start/continue an exercise regimen. The Women’s Health Probiotic supports gut health, which has been linked to improved mood. It’s important to remember that a holistic approach to mental health includes various methods that work together to create sustainable improvement.