Get Regular Exercise for Mental Health

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Exercise is about more than physical health. It may also help with your emotional and mental health. For example, it may help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.

It can be hard to be active when you feel depressed or anxious or have a mental health problem. But being active often may help you feel better. If you have other health issues like coronary artery disease, talk to your doctor before you start a new activity.

Getting started

There are many ways you can be more active. Anything that makes you breathe hard and gets your heart pumping is exercise. Climbing stairs instead of taking an elevator, mowing your lawn, or even cleaning can all be exercise. You may also want to walk, take exercise classes, or join a health club.

If you're ready to add more physical activity to your life, here are some tips to get you started.

  • Talk to your doctor before you start.

    If you have any health problems, or if you have not exercised in many years, talk to your doctor about:

    • What activities are safe for you.
    • How hard and how often you should exercise.
    • What your goals should be. These may change as you get into better shape.
  • Start slowly.

    Start with simple activities, such as biking, slow swimming, or chores that get you breathing harder. Walking is a great fitness activity that most people can start doing. Increase your activity day by day.

  • Make physical activity a regular part of your day.

    Make a habit of using stairs, not elevators, and walking to do errands near your home. Take a daily walk with family members, friends, coworkers, or pets.

  • Choose an activity you enjoy.

    Find an activity that you enjoy, and stay with it. Vary it with other activities so you don't get bored. Whatever activities you choose, the key is to make exercise a habit that becomes a regular part of your life.

  • Find an activity partner.

    If you have problems exercising regularly on your own, ask someone to exercise with you. Or join an exercise group or health club. This can make exercising more fun.

Making exercise part of your daily routine

Getting exercise might be easier if you can find ways to fit it into your daily routine. Here are some tips.

  • Get up 15 minutes early, and stretch.
  • Find ways to walk.
    • Walk or jog in place.
    • Take a walk at lunchtime or after dinner.
    • Use the stairs instead of the elevator.
    • Walk to a coworker's office instead of calling or emailing.
    • Get off the bus one or two stops early, and walk the rest of the way.
    • When you go shopping, park farther away from the store.
    • Take a brisk walk around the mall before you start to shop.
    • Walk the dog.
  • Do active chores.
    • Wash your car by hand instead of driving through the car wash.
    • Wash the windows.
    • Work in your garden or yard.
    • Use a push mower instead of a riding mower.
  • Lift light arm weights.

    For example, do it while you talk on the phone.

  • Find active things you enjoy.

    For example:

    • Ride a bike.
    • Work out to an online exercise video, or use a fitness app.
    • Go dancing.
  • Try to be active as a family.

    For example, play tag or catch, and take active vacations.


Current as of: June 5, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.