Exercise for mental health

Exercise is about more than keeping in shape. It also can help with your emotional and mental health. Exercise can help you improve your self-esteem, keep your mind off problems, and give you a sense of control. In general, people who are fit have less anxiety, depression, and stress than people who are not active.1

Be safe while you exercise

  • Moderate exercise is safe for most people. But it's always a good idea to talk to your doctor before you start an exercise program.
  • Always begin an exercise program slowly. And gradually increase how much you exercise.
  • Stop exercising if you have severe pain, especially chest pain, or severe problems breathing. Talk to your doctor about these symptoms.
  • Drink plenty of water before, during, and after you are active. This is very important when it’s hot out and when you do intense exercise.

Tips for your exercise program

  • Don't overdo it. Start with simple exercises, such as walking, bicycling, swimming, or jogging.
  • Warm up your muscles for about 5 minutes before you start exercising. To do this, you can walk, slowly move your arms and legs, or do simple muscle stretches.
  • Use the talk-sing test to see whether you're exercising at the right pace.
    • If you can talk during exercise, you're doing fine.
    • If you can sing during exercise, you can exercise a little faster or harder.
    • If you are not able to talk, you're probably exercising too hard. Slow down a bit.
  • Cool down for 5 to 10 minutes after you exercise. It's okay to do some stretching exercises during cool down.
  • Don't exercise within 3 to 4 hours before bedtime. This might make it hard to fall asleep.
  • You can make daily activities part of your exercise program. You can:
    • Walk to work or to do errands.
    • Push a lawn mower, rake leaves, or shovel snow.
    • Vacuum or sweep.
    • Play actively with your children or walk the dog.

Gradually increase your activity. It takes time to develop a full exercise program. Find a pace that is comfortable.

Try to do moderate activity at least 2½ hours a week. Or try to do vigorous activity at least 1¼ hours a week. It's fine to be active in blocks of 10 minutes or more throughout your day and week. And you can choose to do one or both types of activity.2

If you have problems exercising on your own, ask someone to exercise with you or join an exercise group or health club.

Citations

  1. Buchner DM (2008). Physical activity. In L Goldman, D Ausiello, eds., Cecil Textbook of Medicine, 23rd ed., pp. 64-67. Philadelphia: Saunders.
  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2008). 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (ODPHP Publication No. U0036). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Available online: http://www.health.gov/paguidelines/pdf/paguide.pdf.

Last Updated: January 21, 2009

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