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Mental health is an important part of every life. It shapes how we think, feel and act when we are alone and when we interact with the environment. Many times when we think of mental health, we focus on a disease or a condition, but just as our physical well-being, we all vary in mental health. Similar to physical health, mental health requires regular maintenance.

Exercise is good for the body, but did you know that it is good for the mind as well? While many praise the physical benefits of training, decades of research show that it can also improve a person's mental health. In fact, exercise has great benefits for cognitive processes and emotions and may even protect the brain from premature aging.

Eden Hernandez Robles (Photo: Courtesy Paso del Norte Health Foundation)

The saying goes that "movement you feel good "and mental health supports this statement, especially for people with a mental health condition. In a systematic review of mental health treatment and exercise studies, Georgia Stathopoulou, Ph.D., and colleagues from Boston University found that people who linked exercise to treatment had better mental health outcomes than those who did did not. Training can even help improve a person's ability to cope with stress and work better at school and work.

Start with a moderate or vigorous exercise program, preferably in consultation with your doctor. One of the best ways to start training for your mental health is to do the things you love and focus on the good feelings it brings you. Exercise is everything from a walk to your favorite places, dancing to your favorite songs, playing with your pet, or turning the light and stretching and breathing.

The default recommendation is that the exercise should take 15 to 30 minutes to take advantage of. Nonetheless, the key to training for your mental health to maximize the "feel-good" benefits is not the stress of reaching a certain amount of time. If you can only muster a 2-minute energy boost, that's fine. When you are ready, you will increase it, and your overall health will reap the benefits.

Challenge yourself to increase your exercise time and intensity. Reward yourself after a hard day. A walk followed by a long, hot shower or cuddling with your pet can improve your mood or find a support group or partner to enjoy doing sports with. Your sanity will thank you.

According to the National Association on Mental Illness, every fifth adult experiences a mental illness each year. If you have a mental health condition, it is okay to seek help. To participate in the transformation of the mental health conversation, visit the Okay to Say campaign in Texas at okaytosay.org.

Remember that mental health is something that everyone can sustain and improve – and exercise is an important activity that offers mental benefits to all people. Take the first steps to improve your mental health and invite others to join you.

Eden Hernandez Robles, Ph.D., MSW, is Director of Empower Change, Paso del Norte Center for Mental and Emotional Wellbeing. Hernandez Robles can be reached at erobles9@utep.edu and 747-7986.

Where to Get Help

Empower Change: Paso del Norte Center for Mental and Emotional Wellbeing is a backbone organization of the Paso del Norte Health Foundation, working with community partners to promote the to reduce negative prejudices related to mental illness Improve access to quality psychological and behavioral health services in the region.

If you require psychosocial services, contact:

Emergence Health Network Crisis Line – 779-1800; emergencehealthnetwork.org

National Alliance for Mental Illness – El Paso – 778-5726; namiep.org

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 800-273-8255; suicidepreventionlifeline.org

Veterans Crisis Line – 800-273-8255, Press 1

Crisis Text Line – Text – 741741

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