It’s no secret that fitness is an important factor in sustaining good mental health and overall well-being. But depending on what you’re dealing with – whether that be depression, anxiety, or even ADHD – different types of exercise may better suit your needs.
“Overall, we like everybody to get sustained aerobic activity,” neuroscientist and author of Biohack Your Brain Kristen Willeumier, Ph.D., explains, noting that it’s been shown “to grow new neurons in the hippocampus, which is the area of the brain critical for learning and memory.”
Nevertheless, she adds, she has specific recommendations for fitness, depending on what you’re dealing with:
If you have ADHD, which can cause all sorts of problems related to focus and sustained attention, Willeumier says the best option for you is likely HIIT training.
“High-intensity interval training helps to boost dopamine in the brain,” she notes, which gives you that increase of dopamine in the prefrontal cortex. (According to research, people with ADHD may have a higher concentration of dopamine transporters in the brain, which means they can remove dopamine from brain cells rather quickly.) Boxing has a similar effect.
When it comes to depression, Willeumier advises people to do more sustained aerobic activity, specifically for 30 to 45 minutes. “That really helps to boost serotonin, which is calming to the brain,” she explains. Aerobic exercise means things like running, swimming, biking, or even brisk walking.
As far as anxiety goes, you’ll want to look for activities that are more calming and contemplative, Willeumier suggests. Yoga can certainly fit the bill, but even walking in nature can help. And while meditation isn’t necessarily ‘exercise,’ it’s certainly a practise that may help.