Exercise has a huge effect on mental health but is a hard habit to form and keep for many people. For people who are depressed or experiencing dysfunction exercise may seem impossibly difficult. Often the symptoms that prompt us to seek treatment develop over time with many different causes, as we get better it takes time and numerous factors to help promote and maintain a healthy mental state. While it may not be the first step on the path to better mental health, it is almost always beneficial as a part of a healthy lifestyle.

When we exercise the brain releases endorphins and natural cannabis type chemicals that make us feel good without the side effects of medications. Exercise activates parts of the brain that help us respond to stressors more appropriately. It gives us a sense of accomplishment and confidence and helps with falling asleep and sleeping soundly. Exercise can also relieve muscle tension.

Oftentimes people will express frustration over losing the physical fitness results they achieved months or years in the past. It helps to keep in mind that exercise is not just about meeting those goals, it is beneficial every time and in every way that we can engage. Exercise should be an enjoyable and empowering activity that we can add into our day on a regular basis. While physical limitations can be a frustration for people who have experienced health problems or age-related changes, most people can participate in an appropriate modified exercise routine. A medical, fitness, or therapy specialist may be needed in some cases.

Ways to get started:

  • Find activities you enjoy and are likely to engage in regularly.
  • Start slow and easy, walking or stretching exercises are excellent for the mind and body.
  • Avoid the types of exercise that make you feel overwhelmed. Some people may be motivated by the social aspect of group exercise, and for others this may cause extreme anxiety and be a barrier to exercising regularly.
  • Use online videos if needed, they are often free and available for all levels and abilities. High quality videos can be found for yoga, Pilates, aerobic exercise, and strength training. Try to find videos made by professionals such as a physical therapist.
  • Ask a medical professional for guidance if you have injuries or physical limitations.

By Ruth Bibeau, PMHNP