5 exercises that give you the mental health boost you need and more

There’s a reason the solution to nearly every day-to-day ailment is to exercise more. I know what you’re thinking, but the benefits aren’t just limited to your muscles. Not only is exercise one of the most effective ways to keep your body healthy, it’s also a natural strategy to lift your mood. Regular exercises like walking or yoga can ease everyday symptoms of depression and anxiety. Exercise can also help increase pain tolerance over time.

Don’t worry if you don’t like the gym; you don’t have to become a bodybuilder to reap the physical and mental health benefits of exercise. You’re probably already doing some of the work. Here are the best exercises and some practical tips to make exercise work for you.

For more mental health tips, see How You Can improve your mood without therapy and how to change your diet a it benefits your mental well-being.

Why should you exercise for mental health?

Exercise makes you feel good about yourself. When I say exercise, I don’t mean just hitting the gym and pumping iron. The exercise is anything that moves you. You don’t have to leave the house to improve your mental well-being with physical activity.

Benefits of exercise on your mental health:

No amount of exercise will unlock good mental health. This means you have the flexibility to find something that fits your life. There are no limits to respect: any amount of movement counts. However, the researchers note that more exercise will increase the gain.

Exercises to improve your mental health

1. Walking

For many people, walking is their point of reference mental health exercise. It’s one of my favorites since it’s relatively low impact and you can do it anywhere. Walking can help relieve stress, ease anxiety symptoms, and promote positive thoughts. If you want the best results, go outside and immerse yourself in the greenery. Nature walks have been found to reduce anxiety.

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It doesn’t have to be a long walk; studies show that just 15 minutes of walking can reduce the risk of depression by 26%.

To know more: 5 Outdoor Workouts That Are Really Fun

2. Running

If you’re looking for a more intense form of exercise for mental health, try running. Our brain is filled with endorphins that improve our mood when we run. It’s what people call “the ultimate racer.” Studies have found outdoor exercise to be an effective therapeutic alternative to antidepressants.

Constant running can also make it easier to fall asleep and improve the quality of sleep, which is essential for sag anxiety AND depressive symptoms.

to know more: 5 great running apps to help you reach your fitness goals

Elderly couple jogging in a park

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3. Strength training

Try strength training if you want the added benefit of building muscle while healing your mental health. It can reduce the risk of developing depression or relieve existing symptoms. You also get the satisfaction that comes from achieving strength goals.

Strength training doesn’t have to mean hitting the gym and lifting weights. You can easily build strength at home with free weights, resistance bands AND your body weight.


Yoga not only helps get your body moving, but it gives you the ability to do so reflect and meditate. That’s why we think it’s one of the best exercises you can do to improve your mental health. Focusing on yours breathing can eliminate bad mental health habits such as thought loops and negative thoughts. Controlled breathing activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which puts you in a relaxed state. It does this by lowering your heart rate and blood pressure.

The parasympathetic nervous system is the counterpart to the sympathetic nervous system which controls the body’s fight or flight response. When you have anxiety, your sympathetic nervous system is activated, even though there is no danger. Yoga can help engage your parasympathetic nervous system to bring you back to homeostasis.

One of best parts of yoga it’s the variety. You can choose the type you would like to do, from calming to more physically demanding.

5. Dancing

Dancing is another exercise option that can significantly reduce anxiety. It can also boost self-esteem. Like yoga, you get to choose the type of dance you’ll be doing — there are benefits for everyone. If you are not a dancer, try tango or free movement.

You don’t need to go to a dance studio to reap the rewards. You can take virtual dance lessons in the comfort of your home. However, synchronized or choreographed group dances can maximize results if you crave social interactions. Classes like Zumba have social benefits that other forms of exercise lack. They allow you to connect with others and form friendships.

Young woman in a fitness dance class performing the moves

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Practical tips to start exercising for mental health

Getting started is the hardest part. Here are some strategies for making exercise a staple in your routine.

  • Choose an activity you like: Try not to think of exercise as something you have to do. Instead, think of it as another tool you use on your journey to wellness.
  • Set realistic goals: Going too far with exercise can have a negative impact on your mental health, especially if you set yourself goals that you can’t reasonably achieve. Set small goals that you can build on as you grow. Remember, you have nothing to prove to anyone but yourself.
  • Awarded: Rewarding yourself for completing a workout is a great idea to make it a habit. It doesn’t have to be anything major, maybe an extra episode of your favorite show or a bubble bath.
  • Make it a social thing: If you’re someone who thrives when you have responsibilities, make your exercise a social activity with friends.

Exercise is an excellent tool for managing the day-to-day symptoms of mental health conditions. However, exercise is not meant to replace therapy and medications for those who rely on them to function.

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