Exercise and Mental Health

Retired woman looking sad

Mental Health & Mental Illness Defined 

Mental Health: “A state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” 

Mental Illness: “Health conditions that are characterized by alterations in thinking, mood or behavior (or some combination thereof) associated with distress and/or dysfunction.” 

Most Common Mental Health Issues 

  • Depression 
  • Anxiety 
  • Stress 

How Poor Mental Health Affects Your Body 

  • Changes in your brain chemistry can also have a big effect on your body. 
  • Mental health issues contribute to a wide array of physical  problems that affect everything from your heart to your immune system 
  • Changes in the brain have an effect on many of the body’s system; i.e. low levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin can alter your pain threshold 
  • Mental health issues increase your risk of illness because of increasing levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline 
  • Mental health issues can affect the immune system making it harder for the body to fight infection. 

How Exercise Improves Mental Health

  • Help reduce anxiety symptoms and improve mood
  • Help keep anxiety from coming back once you’re feeling better
  • Release feel-good brain chemicals (neurotransmitters, endorphins)
  • Reduces immune system chemicals that can worsen depression
  • Increase body temperature which may have calming effects
  • Help you gain confidence
  • Take your mind off of worries
  • Get more social interaction
  • Cope with anxiety/depression symptoms in a healthy way

How Much Exercise/What Types Are Best for Mental Health

  • 30 minutes or more of exercise a day for 3-5 days a week—Even just 10-15 minutes at a time
  • Do what type of exercise you like best: walking, NuStep, gardening, exercise bicycle, aerobics, yoga, etc.—Anything that gets you off the couch and moving is the exercise that can help improve your mood

Getting Started and Staying Motivated

  • Identify what you like doing: find out what type of exercise you like doing and you will be more likely to do it
  • Set reasonable goals: think realistically and set small goals in the beginning
  • Don’t think of exercise as a chore: view your exercise time as your time to yourself
  • Address your barriers: find out things that get in your way of exercising and find alternatives and ways around these barriers
  • Prepare for setbacks and obstacles: give yourself credit for every step in the right direction. If you miss exercise one day, don’t be hard on yourself. Tomorrow is a new day

How Therapy Can Help

  • Therapists can help you find the right exercise for you to manage physical and mental signs and symptoms
  • Define an adequate and specialized program to fulfill your needs
  • Help you perform exercise safely and correctly
  • Help you improve your independence and quality of life