It is no secret that physical activity can boost your confidence by trimming your waistline and building muscles. Exercise makes you look better. In addition, exercise makes you feel good. Its true it helps in the production of endorphins which helps us feel better, but it also assists in reducing mental illness thus promoting improved mental health.

A study conducted at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that running for 15 minutes or walking for an hour a day reduces the risk of major depression by an astounding 26%. Depression is not the only mental health condition exercise can improve either. Anxiety, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder, and overall stress can all be improved with exercise.

Dr. Jan McBarron is an award-winning Medical Doctor, author and public speaker. For over thirty years, she has specialized in Bariatric Medicine and nonsurgical weight loss. Dr. McBarron knows from personal experience how difficult it is to lose weight and keep it off. She recognizes the emotional drain and negative impact weight control has on mental health. Her passion and dedication to Bariatrics stems from her own personal journey of having lost more than 50 pounds, several times. She has the personal experience as well as that of thousands of patients that embrace the fact that exercise has a positive on physical and mental health.

Taking the First Step

“The important thing to remember if you’re suffering from a mental health condition and considering exercise as a treatment option or add-on therapy is that you can, and even should, start slowly,” explains Dr. McBarron. No one expects you to run for an hour if you have never tried running before. Especially if you are dealing with a mental health condition, starting a new exercise routine can feel daunting, time consuming, and impossible to manage on low energy levels. Fortunately, studies have shown that exercise is an energizing not energy depleting activity and once you get started you are more likely to continue. “The toughest part is taking the first step,” Dr. McBarron says in acknowledgement of the struggles people face in getting motivated. “There have been plenty of times when I did not feel like exercising but never once did I ever finish exercising and say ‘gee I wished I didn’t do that’.”

Find Your Focus

When you are exercising for the mental health benefits in addition to the physical benefits often touted by experts, remember that it is as much a physical exercise as it is a mindful one. To combat feelings of anxiety, inattention, dread, and an overall negative thought pattern, find something concrete to focus on. Dr. McBarron recommends paying attention to your breath or the feeling of your body moving. This conscientious effort to break your focus from internal struggle will work in tandem with the endorphins in your brain to relax you, improve your mood, memory and ability to get a good night’s sleep.

Mental health is as important as physical health and luckily the two go hand in hand. For Dr. McBarron, adopting a healthy and active lifestyle has a myriad of benefits. If you have mental health issues certainly seek professional help. However most authorities agree and studies support that if you suffer depression, anxiety or stress taking the time to focus on your physical health will pay dividends for your mental health as well.