Blog > Mental Health

Exercise and Mental Health: 12 Tips to Boost Mood and Relieve Stress - By Tad Lusk, LPC


“Exercise is really important to me – it’s therapeutic. So if I’m ever feeling tense or stressed or like i’m about to have a meltdown, I’ll put on my [music] or go out on a bike ride.”

– Michelle Obama

With summer here, it’s a perfect time to get outside and be active. In today’s blog, I’m excited to share powerful tips and info on exercise and mental health and how you can take action to feel better. You’ll learn how to boost mood and relieve stress, anxiety, anger, and more through physical movement. Ready to get moving?

How are Physical and Mental Health Related?

Emotions, including all of the feelings associated with stress, live in the body and can manifest physically in numerous ways.

When you experience stress or anxiety, the stress hormones cortisol, epinephrine, adrenaline, and noradrenaline trigger elevated heart rate, tensed muscles, quickened breathing, and so on.

In the moment, stress can literally be a visceral experience, in addition to a mental & emotional one. For short periods, this can be an uncomfortable, (although not especially harmful) experience. However, when stress is chronic, or ongoing, it can also lead to long term health problems, including tension headaches, migraines, chronic pain, digestive issues, reproductive problems, increased risk of hypertension, heart attack, and stroke, among other issues.

Yikes.

What Are the Mental Health Benefits of Exercise?

But likewise, your body can be your friend and ally in combating stress. Healthy movement and exercise has tons of benefits. Physically, it obviously can be fun and relaxing and keeps your body in good working order.

But exercise is also a huge facet of mental health. It helps build healthy psychological patterns such as positive body image and increased sense of mastery, accomplishment, & purpose.

Exercise also triggers the release of “endorphins” (hormones with positive psychological effects) that help you feel relaxed, uplifted, excited, and happy.

Dopamine gives you that feeling of reward and pleasure. And you know those times when you’ve just had a deep feeling of wellbeing and happiness, like all’s right with the world? That’s serotonin.

So you’re probably starting to see how physical movement, especially vigorous exercise, can really have a powerful and positive effect on how you feel. Even gentle movement can help stimulate blood flow, release tension, and give you a feel-good lift.

What Can You Do to Relieve Stress and Anxiety?

Physical activity requiring your focus can also be a very healthy distraction from your stressful thoughts & worries by getting you out of your head.

Certain activities just require a high degree of focus (think rock climbing, yoga) where there’s no room for any worries. Likewise, if you’ve ever tried something new that felt really awkward and required a lot of concentration to get the hang of it, you probably know that in that moment, all you were focused on was the activity at hand.

Even learning to ride a bike required total focus at one time. And there is a meditative quality to that kind of complete attention on a fun activity that’s an amazing antidote to stress.

I’ve tried slack-lining a handful of times–sort of like tightrope walking, except on a piece of flat webbing suspended between two trees–and I can completely attest to the level of concentration it demands. All I could think about was simply balancing and trying to stay suspended on that line.

And it was a wonderful mental break. It also got me smiling and laughing at myself too, so that’s another good stress buster.

Even if you’re extremely busy, there are always at least 5 minutes available somewhere in your day for a walk, some pushups, or even something more intense (see below). You can make time.

If feeling better is a priority for you, than exercise is as good a way as any to start feeling better right away. And let’s face it; if you’re a hardworking high-achiever, you could probably use some extra fun in your life.

*(I want to insert the disclaimer that safety is most important. I am not a doctor, a fitness coach, or any kind of expert on issues related to the body. So if you have health conditions, such as heart problems, diabetes, injuries etc. please consult your physician before starting any exercise regimen).

Get Moving: 12 Tips to Boost Your Mental Health with Exercise

  1. If you’re looking for a really effective workout in a minimum amount of time, try high-intensity interval training (“H.I.I.T”). For example, 30 seconds of all-out (such as push-ups, jumping jacks, squats, lunges, etc.) followed by 10 seconds of rest. Repeat for 12 rotations, or about seven minutes. I like the free app “7 Minute Workout Challenge” for this.
  2. Try a new exercise app to help you get motivated, get some fresh ideas, and establish a new routine.
  3. Make it a point to get away from your workspace and go for a walk once a day. While you’re out, try not to think about what you have to do when you get back. This is not supposed to be worry time. Just enjoy walking, breathing, and observing what’s around you.
  4. Try something new you’ve never done before, such as a spin class, dance, climbing wall, etc. It will require enough of your focused concentration to get your mind off your problems. Plus you’ll get the mood boost, you might feel proud/accomplished, and you might just have fun with a new hobby.
  5. Try Yoga. It integrates body (balance, strength, endurance, flexibility) and mind (focused attention, breath control, meditation). Wonderful for your physical and mental health.
  6. Go to an indoor trampoline park: intensely physically taxing, intensely fun.
  7. If you have kids or nephews/nieces, play a high-activity game with them like hide-and-seek or tag. Kids will wear you out (in a good way) guaranteed, plus you’ll probably be laughing through a lot of it too–another great de-stressor.
  8. Get upside-down: Standing with your legs comfortably wide, bend forward and let your head hang, gently swaying if you want. In addition to a great stretch, and increased blood flow to your brain, getting your head below your hips helps activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which calms you down.
  9. Get a massage, or if you don’t like people touching you, try out massage chairs at the mall.
  10. Go to the sauna or steam room at your local gym or rec center. The point is to release tension from your body, and feel great afterward.
  11. Stretch: gently roll your shoulders (where stress & tension is often stored), roll your head, arch your back and enjoy all the pleasant and relaxing sensations stretching offers.
  12. Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR): You can find detailed descriptions and instructions for this online, but here’s the basic practice: While laying down or sitting comfortably, focus all your attention on one muscle group at a time, tensing the muscles as tight as you can, and then releasing them completely. Gradually work your way from the bottoms of your feet to the top of your head, one muscle group at a time. Then you finally tense every muscle in your body together, and release completely. Again, be gentle if you have any injuries, and don’t cause yourself any pain. But PMR can be an incredibly powerful tool for relaxation and releasing stress and tension from the body. It can also help you fall asleep easier, so you might try it as you lay down for the night. If you integrate it with deep breathing, it can have especially calming effects on your body and mind.

What Do You Think?

  • What activities did you used to do for fun that you haven’t done recently because of being too busy or not making time?
  • What would be a good time of day (or evening) for at least 10 minutes of uninterrupted exercise? (Remember, “There isn’t any” or “I don’t have 10 minutes” are just excuses! Make time, even if it’s a few minutes).
  • What’s one thing you can do today to get moving?

Comment below!

Be Well – Tad

Do you want to conquer stress & anxiety and feel peace, calm and confidence every day – without therapy or medications? If so, my new eBook is the perfect resource for you.