May is Mental Health Month – How Exercise Can Help Anxiety and Depression

Did you know that exercise is highly recommended for battling depression or anxiety? Once motivated, exercise can make a big difference in how you think and feel. As part of National Mental Health Month, we thought it would be great to share some tips about how to get started and stay motivated with exercise.

Regular exercise has many psychological and emotional benefits. It can help you:

Gain confidence: Meeting exercise goals or challenges, even small ones, can boost your self-confidence, not just help you feel better about your appearance.

Get more social interaction: Exercise and physical activity may give you the opportunity to meet and  socialize with others. Just exchanging a friendly smile or greeting as you walk around your neighborhood can improve your mood.

Cope in a healthy way: Doing something positive, like exercise, is a healthy coping strategy to manage depression or anxiety.

Is a structured exercise program the only option?

Some research shows that physical activity— not just formal exercise programs — may help improve mood. The word “exercise” may make you think of running laps around the gym, but exercise includes a wide range of activities that boost your activity level to help you feel better. Physical activity is any activity that works your muscles and requires energy and can include work or household or leisure activities.

Cardio exercise includes running, lifting weights, playing basketball and other fitness activities that get your heart pumping.

Other physical activities can include gardening, washing your car, walking around the block or engaging in other less intense activities. Any physical activity that gets you off the couch and moving can help improve your mood.

How much is enough?

Studies show that 30 minutes or more of exercise a day for three to five days a week may significantly improve depression or anxiety symptoms. However, smaller amounts of physical activity — as little as 10 to 15 minutes at a time — may also make a difference.

The positive long-term effects of exercise and physical activity on mental health is why it is important to find those activities that you enjoy. Find what motivates you to get active.

How do I get started — and stay motivated?

Starting and sticking with an exercise routine or regular physical activity can be a challenge. These steps can help:

  • Identify what you enjoy doing.
  • Get your mental health professional’s support.
  • Set reasonable goals.
  • Don’t think of exercise or physical activity as a chore.
  • Analyze your barriers.
  • Prepare for setbacks and obstacles.

If you exercise regularly but depression or anxiety symptoms still interfere with your daily living, see your doctor or mental health professional. Exercise and physical activity are great ways to ease symptoms of depression or anxiety, but they aren’t a substitute for talk therapy or medications.