How to move your body to change the way you feel.
We know exercise is good for our mental health but now science can show us how. Here we look at some of the best exercise for anxiety, mental health and your microbiome: For focus: As exercise goes, dancing is known to be particularly good for the brain and cognitive performance and you don’t have to take dance lessons to feel the benefits. Research by the Universities of York and Sheffield found that dancing like no one’s watching for just five minutes could improve problem-solving skills afterwards. So the next time you feel your focus flagging, jump up and bust some moves!
For sleep: When it comes to improving sleep, moderate intensity aerobic exercise may be the most beneficial according to 2010 study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. Researchers found it improved both sleep and pre-sleep anxiety. So if you’re struggling to switch off at night, try a gentle jog or bike ride during the day.
For an energy boost: When our energy levels are low it can be tempting to reach for the biscuit tin but research shows that going for brisk, 10 minute walk is a more effective way to boost energy levels than a sugary snack. Getting outside for exercise has also been shown to be more effective at raising energy levels than exercising indoors. For stress relief: The great news here is that most forms of exercise have been found to be helpful in reducing stress and anxiety. According to a 2018 study though, higher intensity exercise was found to be more effective than lower intensity exercise. So whilst both going for a walk or a run are likely to bring relief, the latter might bring you more. Be sure to include plenty of rest and recovery time though – going too hard could be counterproductive, as we discuss below.
For your microbiome: As well as boosting our mind, exercise also appears to boost our gut microbiome. Thanks to the gut-brain axis this can have a knock-on effect to the way we feel. Research suggests exercise can increase the diversity of our microbiota and the ‘good’ bacteria in our guts. However, whilst certain types of athletes such as marathon runners have been found to be more likely to have specific strains of ‘good’ gut bacteria, you don’t have to run a marathon to see results. In fact, if you push yourself too hard, doing excessive amounts of high intensity workouts for example, you may end up with elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which could negatively impact your gut health. So be sure to build up slowly and to rest and recover between.