Skip to content

How exercise impacts mental health

We are constantly learning about the positive impact that exercise has on mental health and well-being, including how exercise can reduce feelings of depression and anxiety. 

Together, depression and anxiety affect more than 7 million American adults over age 65 and are often accompanied by other chronic conditions such as arthritis, high blood pressure, and diabetes. While common, depression and anxiety are not a normal part of aging, and there are several steps you can take, including exercise, to help ease your symptoms. 

How does exercise work to reduce depression and anxiety?

Exercise causes your body to release its natural feel-good chemicals (endorphins) which can improve your mood, reduce stress, ease pain, and help take your mind off the worries that feed depression and anxiety. Additionally, exercise can reduce stiffness and pain which contribute to depression and anxiety. Lastly, regular exercise can boost your confidence, increase social engagement, and help you feel more in control of your health.

All activity is good activity

Structured exercise routines that get your heart pumping and strengthen your muscles are great for your mental and physical health, but all forms of physical activity, including simply walking around the block, gardening, and stretching in your chair can improve your mood. Engaging in 30 minutes or more of exercise a day for three or more days a week may significantly improve depression and anxiety symptoms, although any amount of physical activity (even as little as 10 to 15 minutes!) can be beneficial. 

Motivating yourself to exercise when you’re feeling down

If you are feeling down or anxious, it can be especially difficult to find the motivation to get moving. The following are a few strategies that might help you get up and moving:

  • Find activities that you enjoy. You are far more likely to engage and benefit from exercise if you enjoy it. Listen to yourself and your body and ease into regular exercise by engaging in activities that you enjoy whether it’s taking a Bold class, walking your dog, gardening, or playing with your grandchildren. You can build up from there. 
  • Identify what’s stopping you. Whether its financial barriers (ex: gym membership is too expensive), location barriers (ex: you live in a rural area without access to fitness facilities and/or don’t live in a walkable area), physical limitations (ex: you can only participate in seated exercises), or others, look into alternative solutions that best meet your specific needs. Bold’s on-demand exercise classes have the benefit of being accessible from your home and are tailored to your needs and abilities. Alternatively, finding a workout buddy can prove a fun and effective way to stay motivated and socially engage.
  • Be your biggest supporter. Feel proud of yourself for embarking on the journey to be more active and try not to get too hung up on setbacks and obstacles. Don’t write yourself off for missing a day (or a week, or a month) and instead focus on what you can do going forward. Every little step counts. 

Talk to your doctor or a mental health professional

Depression and anxiety are treatable conditions. Talk to your doctor or a mental health professional if you are experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety. Exercise might help ease symptoms of depression or anxiety, but it is not a substitute for speaking with a healthcare professional, therapy, or medications.