Movement for Optimal Mental Health

Only in recent years have we come to understand the positive effects of exercise on the brain and mental health. Exercise is also good for one’s physical health. Reduced body fat, stronger muscles,  bones, and heart, and lower blood pressure are among the benefits. It also helps us look and feel healthier and fit.

Women doing yoga
Women doing yoga

During exercise the levels of neurotransmitters – the “feel good chemicals” serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine – increase. Exercise, therefore, has powerful antidepressant properties. In a study conducted at Duke University researchers found that 60% of the participants who exercised for 30 minutes 3x week over a four week period successfully overcame their depression without the use of antidepressant medication. This is the same percentage as people who benefit from taking antidepressant medication. This is not to suggest that people stop taking medicine for depression, but it does suggest that exercise would significantly help in the management of this prevalent psychological disorder.

You certainly don’t need to have a depression diagnosis to derive the psychological benefits from exercise. Even short workouts (under ten minutes) have been shown to improve mood, self-esteem, confidence, and feelings of well-being, and to decrease feelings of sadness, anger, anxiety and stress.

Physical activity also improves the quality of one’s sleep, diminishes the experience of pain and may protect against the debilitating effects of dementia.

More active people also perceive themselves as having a better quality of life than their nonactive counterparts. Some studies link exercise with higher levels of alertness and mental capacity, including the ability to learn.

Most importantly we can usually count on feeling better after just about any form of working out. It’s the natural antidote for much of what ails us.


  1. Improve energy level
  2. Burn more calories at rest
  3. Improve physical appearance
  4. Tolerate stress better
  5. Recover faster from injuries and surgeries
  6. Stay focused longer
  7. Increase lean body mass
  8. Build endurance and flexibility
  9. Decrease risk of illness
  10. Key to balance and happiness

Practice daily for 10-30 minutes or more

Still for some, the idea of exercise seems more like a punishment than a pleasure. You might have to train your brain to make positive associations with exercise, until the physical activity itself becomes a reward.

Plan for Your Exercise Routine as you would any other appointment

  • Try different activities then decide what form of exercise you would most enjoy.
  • When can you build the time for exercise into your day?
  • Is there someone you can coordinate schedules with so that you have a partner for your scheduled workout?
  • Create a simple positive affirmation about the joy of movement and the benefits you will derive. Repeat often.
  • Keep a journal of your workouts so you can track your successes.
  • Reward yourself with a latte or something (not a cupcake!) after a workout.

What form of exercise gives you the greatest pleasure?


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