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4 Ways To Make Mental Health Part Of Your Fitness Routine

About the Author: Jessica Thiefels is the author of 10 Questions That Answer Life’s Biggest Questions and host of Mindset Reset Radio, a personal development podcast.

JessT

She’s been writing for more than 10 years and has more than 800+ published articles worldwide. She’s written for AARP, Reader’s Digest and Lifehack and regularly contributes to FastCompany, Vitacost and more. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

The importance of mental health has very clear in the last few months, as the world struggles to manage the stress and anxiety of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In fact, 47% of people sheltering in place and 37% of those who are not sheltering in place said that COVID has had a negative impact on their mental health, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey.

If you’re feeling the negative mental health effects of COVID-19, it’s time to get serious about managing stress, anxiety, and fear. The good news is, fitness can help you do exactly that. From yoga and HIIT to simply paying more attention to the way that you breathe, consider the many ways you can make mental health part of your fitness routine.

Build Mindful Movement into Your Routine

‘Mindful movement’ simply refers to moving your body—like during exercise—and actually paying attention to the movement. Think about it. How often have you done a workout and not really felt your body? So often, we’re just checking the box or moving through the motions without actually being mindful about what we’re doing.

Getting mindful while moving your body can be challenging. If your struggling to tune into your body during a workout, start with yoga. But which type of yoga is best? According to Benefits of Yoga: Which Practice is Right for You?:

“All styles of yoga share a focus on mindfulness, but you may want to start with a simple style, such as Vinyasa. Vinyasa yoga focuses on synchronizing the breath with movement. This technique encourages you to pay attention to one breath at a time.”

The best part: the yoga teachers at Byrdie say you’ll start to experience the benefits of yoga within the first few sessions.

Focus on Your Breathing

Is your breath deep or shallow right now? There’s a good chance it’s the latter. The problem is, shallow breathing can actually keep us in a state of stress and anxiety. Experts at Headspace explain:

“Many people have unintentionally become shallow breathers, which is a mindless breathing pattern where you inhale through the mouth, hold the breath, and take in less air. Long-term shallow breathing can actually keep the body in a cycle of stress, affecting everything from mental to physical health and even susceptibility to illness.”

Intentional breathing, focusing on keeping it deep and using various patterns, is a simple way to get more from your workouts while slowing down thoughts and feelings of anxiety. According to Healthline, focusing on breathing “allows your body more control, keeping you calm and alert throughout your workout so you can actively engage all your muscles.”

For example, during your next workout, focus on exhaling during concentric movements (the hardest part, like standing up in a squat) and inhale during eccentric movements (the easier part, like lowering down in the squat). Take it even further and adapt various breathing patterns for different types of exercise.

Take a Walk

Not every workout needs to be an hour-long sweat session. According to a recent survey conducted by the Lancet School Psychiatry journal, simply walking can have a positive effect on your mental health. The study looked at data from more than a million people over the course of four years and found that those who exercised had 43% fewer self-reported “bad” mental health days. Even those people who only walked reduced their “bad” days by more than 10%.

To maximize the health benefits of walking, try mixing it up and getting outside. According to UNC Healthcare: “Walking has been proven effective in reducing anxiety and depression, and there is further evidence that walking in nature improves those results even further. That’s because different parts of our brain activate in nature. Our mind calms, leading to physical changes including a reduction in heart rate and blood pressure.”

Choose a Workout that Helps You Tune Out the Worries

Exercise can help you tune out of the worries and stresses of everyday life, and there’s nothing better for focusing on the ‘now’ than a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) session. 

The benefits of a regular HIIT session aren’t just physical. In a recent article for Get the Gloss, Barry’s Bootcamp founder, Sandy Macaskill, credits HIIT workouts for mental health: “I think everyone has that moment when they walk into class, the music starts, the lights go down, the instructor takes over your thinking for 60 minutes, and you can simply switch off that little voice in your head.”

If you want to tune out the worries while moving your body, turn on a HIIT workout video at home—you can get many of the same physical and mental benefits.

Making Mental Health Part of Your Fitness Routine

Whether you flow through a yoga class, walk each morning, or simply breathe more mindfully during your usual workouts, weaving mental health into your fitness routine is sure to have long-lasting effects. Use this time to move your body, tune into yourself, and tune out the world so you can stress less and relax more.