EPhysical exercise can be a powerful tool for maintaining and improving mental health – just ask the science. A recent study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicineone of the largest studies on the subject to date found that regular exercise was effective in treating symptoms of depression and anxiety.

But not all workouts are created equal, and some will benefit your mental health more than others. Additionally, exercise may have negative effects on mental health, especially when linked to exercise addiction.

So how do you ensure that your training serves both your body and your mind? Grace Albin, Pilates instructor and personal trainer with a passion for optimizing exercise for your mental well-being, shares her top exercise tips for mental health below.

5 mental health exercise tips a trainer swears by

Tip 1: Find what works for you

To get the most out of your mental health training, you need to train regularly. Finding an activity you really enjoy can help, says Albin, and the sports psychologist agrees. It can increase your intrinsic motivation, or do something for the internal satisfaction of doing it, rather than the external validation or reward, said Jamie Shapiro, associate professor of sports psychology at the University of Denver. Good + Good.

When you find the right form of movement, you’ll know it, says Albin. It’ll be something that makes you feel good and can look forward to, rather than “another chore on the to-do list,” she says. “It should be something you have to do, not something you have to do.”

A workout may not be your mental health boost forever — if you feel like you’re starting to get bored or feeling dissatisfied, switch things up, says Albin. Just don’t think about it too much and follow your instincts: “Thinking about it too much will backfire,” she says. “Exercise is a time to be intuitive rather than overly mental.”

In general, science shows that low-stress workouts tend to be best for your mental health, but again, this varies from person to person. The goal is to find something that lights you up without over-emphasizing your feelings in the end.

Tip 2: Be selfish about your workout time

To make your workout work for your mind, as well as your body, make sure it’s really your time. Resist the temptation to make it a multitasking event, says Albin, whether that’s walking the dog or pushing the stroller while you run, or listening to a work-related podcast. Trying to do the most can harm the benefit of exercise for your mental health by increasing the stress level of working out. “Exercise can have big implications for stress management,” said Darren Lumbard, a psychologist who works with athletes at Atlantic Sports Health. Good + Good. “But if we get stressed [multitasking]we counteract the positive effects of exercise.

Instead, says Albin, your workout time should be multi-sensory, “whether you’re listening to the playlist you really like or walking through a park you like to see,” says Albin. “I promise you’re going to have so much extra energy that day that you’ll feel like you’ve gained an hour of productivity.”

Proponents of multi-sensory workouts claim that their ability to help your mind stay present deepens the mental (and physical) health benefits. “Research has shown that if our minds are focused on the present moment and we pay attention to our senses, we tend to perform at a higher level,” said Justin Anderson, sports psychologist and founder of Premier Sport Psychology at Minneapolis. said Good + Good. “You have a certain video, song, or energy being transmitted – it’s an emotion that helps drive the energy to tap into and focus on the exercise at hand.”

Don’t sacrifice what you need from your workout for social reasons, either, says Albin — maybe you feel pressured into Zumba dance workouts because that’s what your friend does, for example, but what you really prefer to do is yoga. “You got the physical benefits because you went to a class and moved your body, but you didn’t get the mental benefits because it wasn’t the exercise your body was telling you to do that day. there,” explains Albin.

Tip 3: Create a designated exercise space

If you’re working out at home, create a space (even if it’s small!) that will help you be mentally present. “For some people, it’s this dark, traditional atmosphere of spin class with electronic music,” says Albin. “And for some people it’s super bright, lots of sun, you have your candle and it’s like a spa.” Small choices like lighting and music can set the tone for a workout that rejuvenates both mind and body.

Tip 4: keep it simple

But that doesn’t mean you have to spend big bucks on fancy fitness equipment or products. In fact, says Albin, it may mitigate the mental health benefits of working out for some people, because “you’re stressing out because now you’re going to be paying for this thing for the next few months on your credit card statement.”

As long as it won’t bring guilt or stress into your workout, Albin agrees that having a cute new outfit or resistance bands to match your exercise mat can be motivating and make the experience more fun. “But you absolutely don’t have to buy anything special to do this,” she says. “That’s one of the hurdles for people who think they don’t have the money or they don’t have the time – you don’t even need a full hour.”

Tip 5: Leave the competitive spirit for another day

For the last of her mental health exercise tips, Albin shares that while there’s a time and place for competitive workouts, she thinks they’re not as beneficial for mental health. If you like racing your friends on your peloton or trying to stay in the orange zone at Orangetheory, great, says Albin, just make sure you have at least one workout a week that’s just about loving moving. your body.

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