NOW that we have moved into the month of March, perhaps it is time to finally put a ‘new year resolution’ into being.

Exercise can improve your physical health and your physique, trim your waistline, improve your sex life, and even add years to your life.

People who exercise regularly tend to do so because it gives them an enormous sense of wellbeing. They feel more energetic, sleep better at night, have sharper memories, and feel more relaxed and positive about themselves. It’s a powerful medicine for many common mental health challenges.

Regular exercise can have a profoundly positive impact on depression, anxiety and stress, and you don’t have to be a fitness fanatic. Modest exercise can make a difference. No matter your age or fitness level, you can use exercise to deal with mental health problems, improve your energy and outlook, and get more out of life.

Exercise and depression

Studies show that exercise can treat mild to moderate depression as effectively as medication. One study found that running for 15 minutes a day, or walking for an hour, reduces the risk of major depression by a quarter. In addition to relieving depression, exercise can prevent you from relapsing.

Exercise is a powerful depression fighter for many reasons. It promotes changes in the brain, and releases endorphins that make you feel good. Exercise allows you to find time to break out of the cycle of negative thoughts that feed depression.

Exercise and anxiety

Exercise is a natural and effective anti-anxiety treatment. Anything that gets you moving can help, but you’ll get a bigger benefit if you pay attention instead of zoning out.

Try to notice the sensation of your feet hitting the ground, the rhythm of your breathing, or the feeling of the wind on your skin. By adding this mindfulness element you may be able to interrupt the flow of worries running through your head.

Exercise and stress

Ever notice how your body feels when you’re under stress? Your muscles tense, especially in your face, neck and shoulders, leaving you with pain or headaches. You may feel a tightness in your chest, a pounding pulse or muscle cramps. You may experience insomnia, heartburn, stomach ache, diarrhoea or frequent urination. This can create a vicious cycle between your mind and body.

Exercising is an effective way to break this cycle. Since the body and mind are so closely linked, when your body feels better so will your mind.

Other mental health benefits of exercise

EVEN if you’re not suffering from a mental health problem, regular activity can offer a boost to your mood, outlook and mental wellbeing. Exercise can provide:

1) Sharper memory and thinking. The endorphins that make you feel better also help you concentrate and feel mentally sharp. Exercise stimulates the growth of new brain cells and helps prevent age-related decline.

2) Higher self-esteem. Activity can foster your sense of self-worth and make you feel strong. You’ll feel better about your appearance and, meeting even small goals, you’ll feel a sense of achievement.

3) Better sleep. Short bursts of exercise in the morning or afternoon can regulate your sleep patterns. If you prefer to exercise at night, activities such as yoga or stretching can promote sleep.

4) More energy. Increasing your heart rate several times a week will give you more get-up-and-go. Start with a few minutes of exercise a day, and increase your workout as you are able.

5) Stronger resilience. When facing challenges exercise can help build resilience. Don’t resort to alcohol, drugs or negative behaviours that only make your symptoms worse.

Reaping mental health benefits of exercise is easier than you think

YOU don’t need to devote hours out of your day to reap the physical and mental health benefits of exercise. Thirty minutes of moderate exercise five times a week is enough, and that can be broken down into shorter sessions.

If you don’t have time for 15 or 30 minutes of exercise, or if your body tells you to take a break after five or 10 minutes, that’s okay. Start with short sessions and slowly increase your time. The more you exercise the more energy you’ll have. The key is to commit to some physical activity, however little, on most days. You can add extra minutes or try different types of activities.


Research shows that moderate levels of exercise are best. Moderate means that you breathe a little heavier than normal, but are not out of breath. You should be able to chat with your walking partner but not easily sing a song. Make sure your body feels warmer as you move, but not very sweaty.

A recent study found that people who squeeze their exercise routines into one or two sessions during the weekend experience almost as many health benefits as those who work out more often. Don’t let a busy schedule be an excuse to avoid activity. Get moving whenever you can.

Getting started with exercise

MANY of us find it hard to motivate ourselves to exercise, but when you feel depressed, anxious, stressed or have another mental health problem, it can seem doubly difficult. You know exercise will make you feel better, but depression has robbed you of the motivation to work out.

When you’re under the cloud of anxiety or depression, setting extravagant goals will leave you more despondent if you fall short. Better to set achievable goals. Schedule workouts when your energy is highest. If depression or anxiety has you feeling unmotivated, try dancing to music or go for a 15-minute walk. It can help clear your mind, improve your mood, and boost your energy level.

Focus on activities you enjoy. They could include throwing a Frisbee with a friend, going window shopping, or cycling for a mile or two. If you’ve never exercised before, try different things. Doing some gardening or tackling a home improvement project can be great when you have a mood disorder.

Finally, reward yourself after a workout, and make exercise a social activity. You’ll feel better than if you were exercising alone, and the companionship can be as important as the exercise.