Exercise isn't just good for your physical health; it's good for your mental health as well! Exercise has been proven to reduce depression and anxiety and to increase mental ability and alertness. It can provide a way to sweat out stress and tension while raising levels of endorphins that make you feel happy, positive, and accomplished. Exercise is also a great way to reduce insomnia and heighten self-esteem.
Get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise 3-5 times a week.
- Do something you enjoy. If you love dancing, don’t use the treadmill as your source of cardiovascular exercise; you’ll be less likely to stick with it. Plus, the more fun you have, the happier you’ll be. Don’t try to bite off more than you can chew in the beginning; start small.
- Start out with a 30-minute session of exercise three times a week. As time goes on, you may choose to add to this routine as you get stronger and healthier. Your benefits will only improve. For the best results, see if you can aim for exercising at least 30 minutes 4-5 times a week.
- Be sure to warm-up with easy, low-impact cardiovascular exercise to get your heart rate going.
- Try to include cardiovascular (aerobic) exercise at least three days a week. This form of exercise includes walking, jogging, running, biking, swimming, kickboxing, using an elliptical trainer or stair-climber, rowing, aerobics, dancing, or skating.
- Try to include a strength-based (nonaerobic) exercise at least two days a week, like lifting weights.
- Try a relaxing form of exercise, like yoga or tai chi. Both of these activities emphasize mental as well as physical wellbeing. Yoga especially has been shown to reduce symptoms of depression. A great yoga technique for beginners is the Sun Salutation.
- Go outside. Being out of doors has been shown to help with depression and mental ability. See Nature Walk for more information on ecotherapeutic exercise.
- Combine your exercise regimen with a diet designed to improve mental health, and watch your physical and mental condition progress. For more information, read the article on Nutritional Intervention.
- Some conditions have been the subjects of clinical studies involving exercise:
- Anxiety: Anxiety responds best to aerobic or cardiovascular forms of exercise. After 10-15 weeks of a cardiovascular exercise program, results at least as good as those given by anti-anxiety medication have been seen in some patients.
- Depression: Depression seems to respond both to aerobic and non-aerobic exercise, as long as it is vigorous, done at least a few times a week. Depression symptoms seem to lessen both immediately after an exercise session as well as gradually over an extended period of time.
Even the ancient Romans knew that physical exercise kept the mind as well as the body fit. Cicero said famously “It is exercise alone that supports the spirits, and keeps the mind in vigor.”
Most people can benefit from physical exercise. However, if you have any concerns whatsoever about your fitness level, chronic illnesses, or debilitating conditions, consult with a doctor before beginning an exercise program
Sometimes it's hard to get started with exercise, especially if you're not very fit. Here are some helpful tips that can help put you on the right track: take the stairs rather than the elevator, take at least a 30-minute walk every day, park farther away from the store and walk the distance, and take a 5-minute break every hour at work to do some stretching and focus your eyes on something other than the screen. These small steps can help acclimate you to exercise so that you can move toward a more intense fitness program.
Fitness.gov on exercise and mental health
UK foundation on exercise and mental health
One of the best exercise resources on the web: a must read!
A great NY Times article about the effects of exercise on depression: