Exercise and Mental Health: How Movement Can Reduce Depression and Anxiety

Do you struggle with intense feelings of depression and anxiety?  Do you try to cope with unwanted symptoms by turning to your television, a carton of your favorite ice cream, or Amazon Prime? Do these usual self-care strategies leave you feeling worse?

Prioritizing your mental health isn’t always easy to do. We often feel overwhelmed by our busy schedules and overflowing to-do lists. Moreover, rather than addressing our feelings, we may routinely suppress, rationalize, or even deny them altogether.

You know that exercise is beneficial for your physical health. But did you know that there is an undeniably strong relationship between consistent exercise and mental health? In fact, it’s so strong that research shows exercise is more significant to your happiness than your economic status.

Let’s get into more of the benefits you need to know.

Linking Exercise and Mental Health

It’s no secret. Physically active people report higher levels of satisfaction and happiness with their lives. There is a biochemical component to this phenomenon. Exercise releases endorphins and neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, which are associated with pleasure and positivity. It also decreases cortisol, the hormone that is closely associated with stress.

Whether you’re jogging, lifting weights, or swimming in the ocean, all types of movement have positive benefits. That said, our bodies love being outdoors. Being in nature helps reduce stress naturally. It also promotes higher cognitive functioning, creative problem-solving, altruism, gratitude, and reduced inflammation!

Do you struggle with anxiety or depression? You’re not alone. And while there isn’t a “cure” for these issues, research shows that even just 20 minutes of movement can boost your mood for up to 12 hours. Talk about an amazing investment.

Adding More Movement Into Your Life

You’re busy. Maybe you spend your day balancing work, family, household chores, and various appointments. With such stacked schedules, it can feel impossible to fit time in for exercise.

However, the more you commit to making exercise a routine habit, the more likely you are to stick with it. Treat exercise like any other essential task; just like you don’t skip out on going to the dentist or doctor, you should treat your “time for exercise” with the same respect.

Remember that you don’t need to complete marathons or 3-hour gym sessions to reap the benefits of exercise. Anything is better than nothing, and fitting in a few minutes here and there is an optimal starting point. 

If you have limited to no history of being physically active, it may take some time to learn your preferences. Be kind to yourself during this discovery process. Open yourself to the opportunity to try new things!

Exercise doesn’t need to cost excess money or consume your day. Consider these low-commitment options:

  • Adding in a walk before work, during lunch, or after work
  • Bodyweight exercises (pushups, squats, planks)
  • Yoga stretches
  • Yardwork
  • Searching Youtube for free exercises or workout classes

Most importantly, don’t wait to feel motivated to exercise. In a world cluttered with temptations and distractions, the motivation may never come! Instead, prioritize movement as an essential part of your day. 

Strengthening Relationships With Loved Ones

Spending time with other active people helps promote more physical activity in your life. Likewise, exercise serves as a wonderful substitute for the typical, sedentary lunch or dinner. The next time you schedule to meet up with a friend, consider grabbing a coffee to go and taking a walk around the park. Other creative, active ideas include:

  • Playing a round of miniature golf
  • Going bowling
  • Taking a bike ride 
  • Signing up for a group activity (mud runs, Spartan races)
  • Going kayaking or paddleboarding at the lake or beach
  • Going for a hike
  • Dancing to live music
  • Signing up for a class (rock climbing, ballroom dancing, pilates)

Not only do these activities boost your movement throughout the day, but they serve as great bonding opportunities with the people you love! 

Final Thoughts

There’s no doubt about the positive relationship between exercise and mental health. Exercise boosts a sense of pleasure, vitality, and motivation throughout your day. It also builds in the essential “me time” so many of us overlook or avoid.

Our mental health encapsulates both our physical and emotional well-being. By taking care of your body, you also take care of your mind. And the more you’re able to add movement into your day, the happier you are likely to feel.

Are you struggling with depression or anxiety? Are you interested in integrating a more holistic approach to your treatment? We’ve got you covered. Contact us today to schedule a session.

Willow Counseling, PLLC – Nashville, TN

Willow Counseling, PLLC exists to provide quality trauma-informed mental health counseling to the Nashville community, recognizing the interconnectedness of our emotional, spiritual and physical selves. We work together to alleviate symptoms, learn better coping skills, relieve burdens, remove the pain of trauma, and so much more. However, our greatest desire is for you to know what it means to feel purpose and joy again and to recognize the strength and worth you have to offer the world.


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