Have you heard of the runners high? It’s the feeling that many runners experience when endorphins flood the body during exercise. Endorphins bring on feelings of pure elation and reduce feelings of stress or anxiety. The runner’s high shows that physical exercise is not only great for your body but your mind as well. 

Exercise is not just about an aerobic activity or building muscle strength. Sure, exercise can improve your physique, trim your waistline, and even add years to your life. But people who exercise regularly also tend to have a strong sense of well-being. They feel more energy during the day, sleep well at night, and feel more positive about their lives. 

How does exercise help depression and anxiety?

Scientific research has long established that exercise is good for you. Exercise can have a number of positive impacts on relieving stress, improving memory, and boosting your mood. Regular exercise can also have a positive impact on people struggling with depression or anxiety. 

So, how does exercise help naturally fight the symptoms of depression and anxiety? Exercise promotes changes in the brain that help to bring feelings of calm and well-being. Exercise can relieve tension, boost physical and mental energy, and act as a distraction from worries or anxieties.  

There is no need to run a 5k or hit the gym every day to reap the mental health benefits of exercise. Research indicates that the frequency of exercise will help to decrease the symptoms of both depression and anxiety. Not the duration or intensity of the exercise. So even short walks done regularly can help.

Can exercise replace antidepressants?

According to some research, regular exercise may be as effective as antidepressant medications. The effects of exercise can be felt for several hours. And a regular exercise routine can provide long-lasting effects. Exercise also comes without many of the side effects that traditional medications have. 

Like all forms of treatment for depression or anxiety, the effects can vary by person. Many people with mild-to-moderate symptoms respond positively to exercise as a treatment. Other people may find that exercise does not provide similar improvements. Or only provides short-term benefits. 

Standalone or in conjunction with traditional medications, exercise can play a beneficial role in managing symptoms of depression and anxiety.

How do I get started?

When you are struggling with depression or anxiety, exercise often seems like the last thing you want to do. But once you get motivated, exercise can make a big difference. While it is unclear how much or how intense exercise needs to be, sustaining exercise habits long-term can help manage the majority of symptoms. 

Starting and sticking with an exercise plan can be a challenge. Consider some of these items as you get started:

Start small. 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise three to five days a week can improve depression and anxiety symptoms. Starting with 10 to 15 minutes may make a difference. 

Find something fun. Consider what you enjoy doing. Maybe that is a walk after dinner or yoga with a friend. Even activities like basketball with your kids or gardening are great options for exercise. By doing activities you enjoy, you’re more likely to stick with it.

Schedule your workout when your energy is highest. Are you an early bird and jump out of bed in the morning? Or, are you a night owl and feel the most active in the evening. Planning your exercise when you feel like you have the most energy will make it easier to get started. Do you feel like you have no energy at all? Try a mid-day walk or dancing to some music for 10 minutes for a quick energy boost.

Set reasonable goals. Don’t plan to run a mile your first day out. Start by jogging for a few minutes during your normal walk. Set a goal that you can stick with. To see the most mental health benefits, developing a long-term sustainable routine is the goal.

Recruit a workout buddy. Making exercise a social event can make it easier to stick with and fun at the same time. Try a group exercise class or a walk with a friend. 

Get some inspiration from a PT or your mental health provider. Not sure where to start? The Physical Therapists at Optimals Sports Physical Therapy or your mental health provider can help you brainstorm. 

How do I overcome mental health obstacles?

You know that exercise can help you feel better. And, it doesn’t take as much work as you may have thought. But taking the first step to incorporate regular exercise is easier said than done. Here are some common barriers to starting an exercise plan and how you can get past them. 

Feeling overwhelmed. It’s hard to imagine adding one more thing to your schedule when you’re already struggling. Remember that exercise helps improve brain function. Making everything a little easier. Making exercise a priority will make it feel less daunting to fit into your schedule.

Feeling exhausted. Physical activity can help reduce fatigue and increase energy levels. When you’re feeling exhausted, working out might be the last thing on your mind. Even a 5-minute walk can help you feel better. 

Feeling hopeless. It’s not about how much you can do or how far you can go. Even small amounts of exercise can benefit your mental health. Start slow with a few low-impact exercises each day. Or, visit us at Optimal Sports Physical Therapy to help get started.

Do I need to see my doctor?

If depression or anxiety symptoms interfere with your daily living, even if you exercise frequently, see your doctor or mental health professional. Exercise and physical activity are great at treating depression or anxiety for some, but it may not be a substitute for medications and talk therapy.

Need help starting a new exercise routine? See us here at Optimal Sports Physical Therapy. We’ll discuss medications, symptoms, and health conditions to help identify the exercises, frequency, and intensity levels that are just right for you. Unable to make it to our office? No problem! Give us a call at 406-502-1782 to schedule a video consultation with one of our Physical Therapists.


Metadata: Learn how regular exercise helps boost energy, improves sleep, and fights depression and anxiety from Optimals Sports Physical Therapy in Helena, MT.

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