Most people know that a good workout can make you feel physically powerful, but what about mental health—can it make you feel better psychologically too? In another article , we reviewed how exercise can improve mental health and discussed the effects exercise has on the brain. Essentially, moderate exercise has been found to be associated with the release and improved uptake of neuromodulators (like norepinephrine) that have been found to have positive effects on stress and pain management.
From reduced anxiety to improved self-esteem, routine physical activity can be great step toward working through mental health difficulties without medical intervention.* However, finding the right exercise routine and environment can be tricky if you’re not a runner or an athlete. Here are some recommended basic exercises that can help you develop your own mental health workout plan.
If you do not experience mobility issues, walking is by far the easiest exercise to implement in your daily routine. A short walk outside can be a wonderful way to get a physical and mental boost. Low-intensity aerobic activities are excellent for encouraging positive reflection and alertness as your body can be relaxed while still experiencing the benefits of being active.
Dancing has all the characteristics of walking while promoting more rigorous activity with the added benefit of being almost guaranteed to make you happy while doing it. Don’t want to go to a dance studio and take classes? Turn on your favorite album at home and just take ten minutes to dance.
Running encourages whole-body engagement in a simple, rhythmic process that allows you to gently focus on your pace while feeling calm and disengaged from your daily stresses.
Biking or indoor cycling
Like running, cycling is perfect for focusing your attention on rhythmic motions that engage your whole body. Because it can be either low- or high-impact, it is perfect for beginners who are not comfortable developing a comprehensive exercise regimen.
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
HIIT includes a variety of exercises, and routines span from beginner to very advanced. Engaging in a basic HIIT set can lead to a rush of cortisol and adrenaline, allowing you to focus intently on your body in the present moment and get your mind out of a stressful or reactive state. HIIT exercises include high-knee runs, burpees, squat jumps, and dumbell rows—anything that includes cardio with bursts of higher-impact exercise.
Maybe running and doing burpees sounds like your own personal hell but you still want to be active—what about an exercise with low weight resistance? Swimming is one of the best low-impact exercises that can get you moving with minimal impact on your body. It can also be great for people with mobility problems that cannot walk or run without mobility aids.
Stretching and Yoga
Yoga refers to a set of practices designed to engage the practitioner spiritually, mentally, and physically while stretching is simply the physical act of flexing and extending certain muscle groups. Many yoga postures (called asanas) include stretching, but yoga requires a bit more focus and breath work than most stretching routines. There are many guides to beginner asanas that can help you develop basic stretching and grounding techniques and even develop your own practice. Yoga is well-known for its ability to aid in meditation and physical mindfulness, which can have significant benefits for mental health.
There are many guides, classes, and even apps that can help you get started in developing a walking habit or starting HIIT regimens. Ask around your community, start exercising with friends, or check out these resources for getting started on developing your personal mental health workout routine.
We are not affiliated with any of the writers or practitioners listed below—we just think they have great resources.
* Although we love helping people find ways to manage their mental health problems naturally and through self-directed means, we do not claim that exercise and natural interventions can be considered suitable replacements for prescribed medications and therapy. Most of our recommendations are intended to enhance, not replace, your current mental health treatment routine and provide alternative strategies for people facing barriers to mental health treatment.