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How Exercise Boosts Mood and Supports Depression and Anxiety Treatment

8 min read

When you have depression or anxiety, exercise often seems like the last thing you want to do, but once you get started and keep going, it can make a big difference. Exercise helps prevent and improve many health problems, including high blood pressure, diabetes, and arthritis, and research shows that its mental health benefits can improve mood and reduce anxiety. 

Although the exact mechanisms linking exercise to reduced depression and anxiety aren’t fully understood, physical activity can ease symptoms and enhance overall well-being. Exercise can reduce stress, improve sleep, and support recovery from mental illness, helping to prevent the return of depression and anxiety. If you’re new to exercising, starting slowly in a comfortable setting, and choosing activities you enjoy can make it easier to incorporate regular physical activity into your routine, which will benefit both your physical and mental health.

How Does Exercise Help Depression and Anxiety?

Exercise is well-known for its physical benefits, but its impact on mental health is equally significant. Research shows that regular physical activity can be as effective as antidepressants in some cases, offering a natural way to combat depression and anxiety. Here’s how exercise can help improve mental health:

Releasing Feel-Good Endorphins

When you exercise, your brain releases chemicals called endorphins. These natural brain chemicals are known to improve your sense of well-being and create feelings of happiness and euphoria. This biochemical reaction helps lift your mood and provides an immediate boost in how you feel, combating the symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Taking Your Mind Off Worries

Engaging in physical activity can serve as a distraction, allowing you to break the cycle of negative thoughts that feed depression and anxiety. Focusing on your exercise routine or the physical sensations of movement helps redirect your mind away from worries, reducing mental stress and providing a much-needed mental break.

Gaining Confidence

Achieving exercise goals, even small ones, can significantly boost your self-confidence. As you get in shape, you may also feel better about your appearance, which can enhance your overall self-esteem. This sense of accomplishment can be empowering, providing a positive counterbalance to the negative thoughts associated with depression and anxiety.

Increasing Social Interaction

Exercise often involves social activities, whether it’s a fitness class, a sports team, or simply greeting others while walking in your neighborhood. This social interaction can improve your mood by reducing feelings of loneliness and isolation, common in those suffering from depression and anxiety. Even small, friendly interactions can have a positive impact on your emotional well-being.

Coping in a Healthy Way

Turning to exercise as a way to manage your depression or anxiety is a healthy coping strategy. Unlike unhealthy methods such as drinking alcohol or dwelling on negative emotions, physical activity provides a constructive way to deal with stress. It empowers you to take control of your mental health positively and proactively.

Improving Fitness and Overall Well-Being

Regular exercise improves your physical fitness, which in turn can help lift your mood. Better physical health can enhance your energy levels, improve sleep, and reduce the physical symptoms of depression and anxiety, such as fatigue and tension. Feeling physically strong and healthy can contribute to a more positive overall outlook on life.

How Much Exercise Do I Need?

Adults should aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate to intensive physical activity on most or all days of the week, totaling 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity every week. Combining your exercise routine with a healthy diet and other positive lifestyle habits can further improve your well-being. Moreover, while you exercise, practicing steady breathing and maintaining good posture can also improve self-awareness and the quality of your workouts. If you haven’t exercised for a while, you can start gradually and build up towards the 150-minute goal. Remember, any exercise is better than none—even a brisk 10-minute walk can clear your mind and help you relax.

How Do I Get Started — And Stay With It?

Starting and maintaining an exercise routine can be quite challenging, especially if you’re not used to being active. It’s very important to begin within your limits and gradually increase your activity level. Here are some key steps to help you get started and stay on track:

  • Start with simple activities like going to the shops, gardening, or doing household chores.
  • Aim to incorporate 30 minutes of moderate exercise into your daily routine, such as biking, walking, or swimming.
  • Utilize tools like a pedometer or smartwatch to track your progress and set achievable walking goals.
  • Exercise in a comfortable environment, whether it’s at home or outdoors, alone or with others.
  • Find activities you enjoy, such as dancing or visiting museums, to make exercise more enjoyable and sustainable.
  • Seek support from healthcare professionals or mental health professionals to develop a personalized exercise plan.
  • Set realistic goals and view exercise as a positive tool for improvement.
  • Identify and address barriers to your success, such as self-consciousness or lack of motivation.

Once you’ve followed those steps, you should also be prepared for setbacks, give yourself credit for every effort, and stay committed to your journey towards better health and well-being.

How Do I Overcome Obstacles To Exercising?

When starting an exercise routine, you may find yourself confronted with various obstacles that seem too impossible to overcome. One significant challenge often stems from your existing depression, which can manifest physically through disturbed sleep, decreased energy levels, and changes in appetite, among other symptoms. 

Overcoming Lack of Motivation
With a mental health condition like depression, the motivation to exercise is reduced, which creates a discouraging cycle, and makes it difficult to muster the energy to get moving. However, even taking small steps towards physical activity can make a substantial difference in breaking this cycle and improving overall well-being.

Finding Affordable Alternatives
Cost can also pose a barrier to exercise, with gym memberships and home equipment expenses adding up quickly. Fortunately, there are numerous affordable alternatives available, such as utilizing community centers that offer low-cost exercise programs or exploring free options like local running groups or outdoor activities. Online resources, including exercise apps and virtual classes, provide convenient and budget-friendly options for those seeking to incorporate exercise into their routine without breaking the bank.

Getting Rid of Anxiety
Feelings of anxiety or intimidation may arise when considering exercising in public spaces or joining group fitness classes. Overcoming these emotions involves finding strategies to increase comfort and confidence. Bringing along a supportive friend, dressing in comfortable attire, or opting for home-based workouts using online platforms can help alleviate anxiety and make the exercise experience more enjoyable and accessible.

Committing Time to Exercise
Time constraints often emerge as a common hurdle to maintaining a consistent exercise routine. Juggling work, family responsibilities, and other commitments can leave little room for physical activity. However, breaking exercise into smaller, more manageable chunks throughout the day, waking up earlier to fit in a workout, or utilizing short breaks for a quick walk can help overcome time limitations and prioritize physical health amidst a busy schedule.

Modifying Exercises
Physical limitations, whether due to injury or disability, can present significant challenges to engaging in regular exercise. Seeking guidance from healthcare professionals, such as physiotherapists or exercise physiologists, can provide tailored recommendations and modified exercises to accommodate individual needs and abilities.

Boost Your Mood and Treat Depression and Anxiety

Find solutions to help boost your mood and treat depression with the help of Marpa Minds.

Exercise is a powerful tool for boosting mood and supporting depression treatment, offering a natural and holistic approach to mental well-being. Physical activity triggers the release of hormones in the brain associated with reduced stress, increased self-confidence, and improved mood. Consistency is key when exercising for mental health benefits, and setting achievable goals, finding the right time to exercise, and incorporating enjoyable activities can enhance adherence to an exercise routine. Moreover, maintaining a nutritious diet is essential, as diet plays a significant role in mental health. 

For those who have not found success with traditional treatments and are looking for other solutions aside from exercise and traditional antidepressants, there is hope. Marpa Minds offers innovative ketamine therapy, including specialized Spravato treatment, providing a new path forward for individuals struggling with treatment-resistant depression. Designed specifically for cases where conventional therapies have failed, this treatment option offers a potential breakthrough in mental health care. At Marpa Minds, located in Westchester County your well-being comes first, and our dedicated team is committed to providing a safe and supportive environment for your journey to recovery. Take the first step toward healing by contacting us today or by calling us at 1877-88-MARPA.