Everyone knows regular exercise is crucial for maintaining good physical health and well-being. Benefits of physical fitness include better weight management, muscle-strengthening, improving sleep quality and even enhancing your sex life. But the advantages of physical exercise are definitely not just limited to your body: specific exercises, such as practicing yoga and meditation techniques, can also benefit your emotional health by improving your mood, raising your self-esteem, relieving stress and sharpening your mental abilities.
According to mental health experts from Harvard Medical School, practicing yoga can help you reduce feelings of anxiety or depression, while enhancing your overall mood and energy levels. Alicia Rindge, certified holistic health coach and founder of Healthy Mind Nutrition, advises against eating a heavy meal prior to practicing yoga, since this can interfere with your body’s natural cycles of rinsing out harmful toxins. Remember to drink water throughout the day as well, especially two to three hours before a yoga session. Doing so will provide you with the adequate amount of hydration to safely fuel your practice. Rindge also endorses smiling while practicing yoga, as this can send positive signals to your mind and body and help lift your mood, even if you are not feeling particularly happy.
Practicing meditation can help you feel more mindful, compassionate and empathetic toward others. Teachers involved in a 2012 study from the University of California San Francisco reported feeling more calm and relaxed after various meditation sessions. They also claimed that being more aware and in control of their emotions led to more fulfilling, positive relationships with others. In a separate ongoing study by the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin, veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder report feeling less anxious and increasingly more optimistic when using meditation techniques. Both studies show that integrating small meditation exercises into your daily routine, such as spending a few minutes alone in a quiet place to focus on a positive memory or sensory experience, can make you feel significantly better, both mentally and emotionally.
Practicing regular, mindful breathing techniques can be both calming and energizing, as it can prevent panic attacks and also clear your mind of worries and anxieties so you can focus better. To relax and reduce stress, Rindge suggests using the Four-Seven-Eight Breathing Tool championed by Andrew Weil, M.D. Begin by exhaling completely through your mouth, and then inhaling through your nose, counting to four. Then hold your breath for a count of seven before exhaling completely through your mouth for a count of eight. Repeat this cycle for a minimum of four breaths or as often as necessary.
Even a brisk 10-minute walk can be enough to improve your mood and energy levels, the Association for Applied Sport Psychology reports. Other high-impact cardiovascular activities, such as running, taking an aerobics class or rock climbing, can also help improve your body image, self-esteem and sense of pride and confidence in your own physical abilities and accomplishments. To experience the long-term emotional and psychological benefits of exercise, try to exercise at least three times a week for at least 30 minutes each time. Always consult your physician or a physical fitness expert before starting any new exercise routine.