Why should I exercise? That’s a great question! Exercise is an important benefit for your mental health. Research consistently shows that exercise can reduce symptoms of depression and help people feel better. Exercise releases the feel-good brain chemicals that may ease depression (those neurotransmitters and endorphins). Exercise can improve the immune system in ways that make you feel better. Exercise increases your body temperature which can help you feel better. It can help you gain confidence as you meet your goals or challenges and feel better about yourself. Exercise can take your mind off of the things that are bothering you and your stress. It may give you a chance for social interaction as you are around others at a gym, in a class, or just walking down the sidewalk/trail. Social interaction can reduce depression. Even something as simple as a smile or saying hello can make people feel better. Exercise in a healthy way to cope, versus drinking or eating, can make you feel better about your health and body.
Smart small: Exercise does not have to take a long time. Research has shown that doing as little as 10 to 15 minutes of exercise at a time can improve symptoms of depression. Do something easy like taking a brief walk, stretching, climbing the stairs, or gardening for a few minutes. The more vigorously you exercise, the less time it will take to improve your mood.
Types of Exercise: Vigorous exercise would include running, biking, dancing, or anything that increases your heart rate. These kinds of exercise help you feel better faster.
For general health the recommendation for exercise of 30 minutes or more of exercise a day for 3 to 5 days a week. This level of exercise can certainly improve your depression symptoms but may be a long-term goal to work toward. Start small. Any amount of activity or exercise can help…even five minutes of walking or movement can benefit your mental health.
Tips to begin: Find a physical activity you really enjoy. Make sure that you check with your doctor or primary care physician to make sure that the activity is okay for you. Set reasonable goals and do not think of exercise as a chore. Figure out what might get in your way and plan to overcome these.
Overcoming Barriers: Be creative with home restrictions. Explore online resources, videos, or apps to find exercises that you can do inside. Try to walk or run outside when weather permits or try to use the stairs as an added challenge if you have the opportunity!
Ask for support and accountability from others in your home or social community that you can connect with. If you are unable to meet in person, keep each other accountable virtually by sending messages and daily or weekly updates.
Finally, set small goals throughout the day and week instead of a large block of time. Try to look for 5-10 minutes when you are able to be active if you are unable to set aside larger blocks of time. Remember, any amount of activity helps!