Lifehack logo

5 Exercises That Give You the Mental Health Boost You Need and More

Exploring the Mind-Body Connection

By Saмιм NαωαzPublished 4 months ago 17 min read

Exercise isn't just good for your body, it's great for your brain, mental health and pain tolerance. Let's talk about which activities you should be trying. There's a reason the solution to nearly every daily ailment is to exercise more. I know what you're thinking, but the benefits aren't only limited to your muscles. Not only is exercise one of the most effective ways to keep your body healthy, but it's also a natural strategy to lift your mood. Regular exercises like walking or yoga can ease your daily symptoms of depression and anxiety. Exercise can also help increase your pain tolerance over time.

Don't worry if you don't like the gym; you don't have to become a bodybuilder to reap the physical and mental health benefits of exercise. You're probably already doing some of the work. Here are the top exercises and a few practical tips to make exercise work for you.

For more mental health tips, see how you can improve your mood without therapy and how to change your diet to benefit your mental wellness. Why should you exercise for mental health?

Exercise makes you feel good about yourself. When I say exercise, I don't only mean hitting the gym and pumping iron. Exercise is anything that gets you moving. You don't have to leave your house to boost your mental wellness with physical activity.

Benefits of exercise on your mental health:

•Improved body image

•Better mood

•Lower depression and anxiety symptoms

•Reduced symptoms of ADHD

•Higher self-esteem

•Sense of accomplishment

•Increased self-confidence

•Sense of pride

No one type of exercise will unlock good mental health. This means you have the flexibility to find something that fits your life. There is no bar to meet -- any amount of movement counts. However, researchers note that more exercise will increase the payoff.

Exercises to boost your mental health


For many people, walking is their go-to mental health exercise. It's one of my favorites since it's relatively low-impact, and you can do it anywhere. Walking can help ease stress, relieve anxiety symptoms and promote positive thoughts. If you want the best results, walk outside and soak in the greenery. Nature walks have been found to reduce anxiety. It doesn't have to be a long walk; studies show that as little as 15 minutes of walking can decrease your risk of becoming depressed by 26%.

2. Running:

If you're looking for a more intense form of exercise for mental health, try running. Our brains flood with endorphins that boost our mood when we run. It's what people call a "runner's high." Studies have found outdoor exercise to be an effective treatment alternative to antidepressants.

Consistent running can also make it easier to fall asleep and increase sleep quality, which is essential for lowering anxiety and depression symptoms.

3. Strength training:

Try strength training if you'd like the added benefit of building muscle while healing your mental health. It can lower the risk of developing depression or relieve existing symptoms. You also get the satisfaction that comes with meeting strength goals.

Strength training doesn't have to mean going to the gym and lifting weights. You can easily build strength at home with free weights, resistance bands and your body weight.

4. Yoga:

Yoga not only helps get your body moving but gives you a chance to reflect and meditate. That's why we think it's one of the best exercises you can do to boost your mental health. Focusing on your breathing can eliminate bad mental health habits like thought loops and negative thinking. The controlled breathing activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which puts you in a state of relaxation. It does this by lowering your heart rate and blood pressure.

The parasympathetic nervous system is the counterpart to the sympathetic nervous system that controls the body's fight-or-flight response. When you have anxiety, your sympathetic nervous system is triggered, even if no danger exists. Yoga can help engage your parasympathetic nervous system to bring you back to homeostasis.

One of the best parts of yoga is the variety. You can choose what type you would like to do -- from calming to more physically demanding.

5. Dancing:

Dancing is another exercise option that can significantly reduce anxiety. It can also increase self-esteem. Like yoga, you can choose the type of dancing you'll do -- there are benefits to all of them. If you're not a ballet dancer, try tango or free-flow movement.

You don't need to go to a dance studio to reap the benefits. You can do virtual dance classes in the comfort of your home. However, synchronized or choreographed group dancing may maximize results if you crave social interactions. Classes like Zumba have social benefits that other forms of exercise are missing. They allow you to connect with others and form friendships. Practical tips to start exercising for mental health

Getting started is the hardest point. Here are some strategies to make exercise a staple in your routine.

•Choose an activity you enjoy: Try not to think about exercise as something you have to do. Instead, view it as another tool you use on your wellness journey.

•Set realistic goals: Going too far with exercise can negatively impact your mental health, especially if you set goals for yourself that you can't reasonably meet. Set small goals that you can build on as you grow. Remember, you have nothing to prove to anyone other than yourself.

•Reward yourself: Rewarding yourself for completing a workout is a great idea to make it a habit. It doesn't have to be anything big -- maybe an extra episode of your favorite show or a bubble bath.

•Make it a social thing: If you're someone who thrives when you have accountability, make your exercise a social activity with friends.

Exercise is an excellent tool to manage the everyday symptoms of mental health conditions. However, exercise is not intended to replace therapy and medication for those who rely on them to function.

4.Things That Will Boost Your Mental Health Without Paying for Therapy.

Therapy is expensive. Here are some things you can do to manage your mental health in the meantime. Mental health struggles aren't something to take lightly. When experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety, seeking therapy can help you establish a treatment plan. But what are you supposed to do if you can't afford it? Even with sliding scale payments, it's expensive. Online therapy services like BetterHelp and Talkspace make it more affordable, at around $60 to $90 per session. However, that's still not in the budget for many people.

Therapy will always be the gold standard for mental health treatment. Though circumstances can make it temporarily impossible. These four strategies improve your mental health without spending any money.

Also, see how to naturally treat depression and anxiety and ways you can give yourself a happiness boost each day.

Use mental health apps to track daily progress:

Mental health apps offer resources to people who otherwise couldn't get them. While they're not a substitute for therapy and can't diagnose conditions, mental health apps like Moodfit and Sanvello are great tools to use on your mental wellness journey. The best mental health apps will help you relieve stress and anxiety and teach you how to manage symptoms in the future. There's a lot of variety in what these apps offer and the features that are built in. Many offer a great catalog of educational resources to help you learn about conditions and adapt coping strategies to manage them daily.

Mental health apps can also be a reminder to check in on yourself. Most send push notifications throughout the day, which can be used as an indicator to stop and assess how you're feeling.

Implement cognitive behavioral therapy strategies on your own:

Cognitive behavioral therapy is commonly used to treat depression, anxiety and addiction. CBT strategies and tools are intended to be taken outside of therapy sessions and used in daily life.

It's called self-directed therapy. Again, it isn't a replacement for traditional therapy with a professional, but it can supplement your mental health efforts when you don't have access to talk therapy. This self-help strategy is best reserved for those with moderate symptoms that don't affect daily tasks.

A systematic review of 33 studies found that self-help treatments can decrease anxiety and depression. Self-directed therapy results were "moderate," according to the review. So people didn't feel 100% better, but they reported feeling less anxious or depressed. If you're interested in self-directed therapy strategies to improve your mental well-being, we recommend checking out the Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies list of books. The books on the list have received a "seal of merit."

Common self-directed therapy techniques:


Writing down your thoughts and feelings and reflecting on them can help you identify negative thoughts and behavior patterns. Once you're aware, you can take meaningful steps toward making changes.

Guided courses:

With self-directed therapy, you have to start somewhere. Guided courses can help you learn methods and tactics for daily management. You can consult the National Alliance on Mental Illness for its mental health education directory.

Mental health apps:

Many mental health apps use cognitive behavioral therapy techniques to reduce anxiety and help manage symptoms. 3. Stay connected to others

It's important to connect with other people, especially those experiencing similar things. Studies show that connecting to others can provide a sense of meaning and purpose and decrease loneliness. Group therapy or support groups are typically led by a mental health professional or group leader and can be low-cost or free. Whether it be friends, family or strangers, sharing your feelings and experiences is essential.

You also can use the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website to locate community resources near you.

Connections with people aren't the only ones that can help improve your mental health. Pets and animals can reduce stress and anxiety levels. Take some intentional time to hang out with your pet -- play with your dog, hug your cat. If you don't have a pet, you can volunteer at a local animal shelter or humane society. Fostering or pet-sitting animals is also an option.

Practice mindfulness and meditation:

Meditation has a history that stretches back thousands of years, but it's become an extremely popular stress-relieving practice in the last few. Mindfulness helps you become more attuned to what you're feeling and thinking, which helps you manage your thoughts and emotions more effectively, rather than becoming overwhelmed by them. Mindfulness uses techniques like meditation and breathwork to improve your mental health.

Mindfulness can help you manage symptoms of anxiety and other mental health disorders by helping you understand and cope with what you're feeling. Studies show that meditation can help reduce stress, alleviate symptoms of depression or anxiety and help you sleep. The focus is on mind and body integration, which can help you enhance your mental well-being.

You can also use meditation apps to reduce stress and help maintain your mindfulness regimen. These free or low-cost apps are great for beginners. Other practical tips to improve your mental health without therapy.


Several mental health benefits are associated with exercise, like relieving anxiety or improving your mood. Exercise also can boost your confidence and release endorphins. You don't have to jump straight into heavy lifting; any exercise can help.

Go outside and soak up the sun:

Sunlight boosts serotonin in the brain, which can improve your mood. When you don't get enough sun, your serotonin levels drop, leading to seasonal affective disorder.

Prioritize your sleep:

Poor sleep is linked to a greater risk of anxiety or depression, poor mood and higher stress levels. Prioritize your sleep by sticking to your bedtime routine -- get ready for bed by doing something relaxing, aim for the same bedtime each night and turn off your screens.

Take a step back from social media:

Constant social media use can increase symptoms of anxiety and depression. A digital detox may be warranted if you compare yourself to others online or notice a dip in your mental health. Start by limiting your time on social media. Then, try to fill that time with things you enjoy or people you like spending time with. Which hobbies are the best for boosting mental health?

There is no one reigning champ of hobbies for mental health. We're all different, so we will choose different things to help us relax. What works for you may not yield the same results for someone else. It's about finding the right hobby that you find value in.

Here are some common options people use to elevate their mental health and why it works.

1. Journaling:

Regularly journaling is a powerful tool that allows you to work through feelings and reflect on events you experience. It's often recommended for those with anxiety, depression and PTSD. You don't have to write a novel; research has shown that journaling for as little as fifteen minutes daily can help reduce anxiety.

You don't have to search to solve a problem while journaling. It's also something you can do just for fun. The benefits come either way. Common types of journaling include reflective journaling -- which involves writing about your day and what you thought about it -- and gratitude journaling.

No matter what type of journaling you choose, it's a great hobby that allows you to highlight your wins and challenge negative thoughts and feelings.

2. Cooking:

Everyone knows that eating can be therapeutic. But so can cooking. Besides the benefits that can affect your physical health, like being in control of the ingredients, there are several reasons why cooking is one of the best hobbies for mental health. It offers a level of emotional relief that other hobbies may not.

According to a study published in Frontiers in Psychology, cooking can help you relax and boost your happiness. It's not hard to see why. With each dish, you feel more self-reliant and confident, not to mention the social connections you can make when serving it to others. And for the record, yes, baking counts too.

3. Spending time in nature:

Hobbies that involve going outside -- like hiking or gardening -- can be great for mental health. Studies show that being in sunlight can help boost the body's serotonin production. Serotonin is the naturally occurring neurotransmitter that plays a part in regulating our moods, according to Harvard Health Publishing. It's called the "feel-good" chemical for a reason. When our body produces the right amount of serotonin, we feel happy and calm. Lower levels of serotonin are associated with mood disorders like depression.

So if you're someone who goes outside, you're helping your body combat depression without even knowing it. Being outside in nature can also reduce stress and lower your heart rate.

4. Art:

When I say art, I'm talking about everything creative you can think of -- painting, drawing, sculpting, embroidery and woodworking. The list goes on. No matter where your hobbies fall in the lineup, you get tangible mental health benefits from them.

Art lets you express your feelings and channel your creativity. You may also use it as a way to work through things that are tough to talk about. It's a tactic used often in art therapy sessions.

Art may also relieve stress and improve self-confidence. You do not need to be "good" at painting to do it. There is no bar to meet for quality. The only thing that matters is that you enjoy what you're doing.

5. Music:

You get a sense of accomplishment and enjoyment from playing an instrument. Making something feels good, and your body responds to those positive feelings. But if you're not musically inclined, don't worry; listening to music also derives similar benefits by lowering stress and anxiety levels. It also can boost your mood.

6. Reading:

Reading is the ultimate form of escapism. You can jump into a whole new world and live a thousand different lives -- or as many books as you can read. It also happens to be a great hobby if you have anxiety. Reading can help distract you from negative or intrusive thinking you may be experiencing. It also can help lower your heart rate and help you relax.

You'll get the same benefits from listening to books too. So if you can't carve out the time to read, try listening while walking your dog or cleaning your house.

7. Strategy games:

Strategy games and puzzles -- like chess, crosswords and sudoku -- are other hobbies that are good for your mental health. Studies have found that strategy games improve brain functioning, problem-solving skills and memory. Puzzle games also can help those with ADHD hone their concentration.

Given their ability to strengthen cognition, strategy games and puzzles may also reduce the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer's in older adults. However, experts are divided on whether they are truly a preventative measure or if they help cope with the disease. More research is needed to determine strategy games' role in age-related cognitive decline.

8. Exercise:

Whether you work out alone or participate in team sports, exercise is one of the best hobbies to have -- both physically and mentally. When we exercise, our brains flood with endorphins that boost mood, per Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Exercise is an outlet to let out frustrations and navigate emotions. By exercising, you're lowering your risk for anxiety and depression. Team sports give you the extra edge by filling up your social meter while moving your body. Read this data and rewrite in new form as a proper article with headings.

Exercise is not only beneficial for your physical health but also for your mental well-being. It can help improve your mood, reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, increase pain tolerance, and boost self-esteem. Here are five exercises that can give you the mental health boost you need:

Walking: Walking is a low-impact exercise that can help ease stress, relieve anxiety symptoms, and promote positive thoughts. Even just 15 minutes of walking can decrease your risk of depression by 26%.

Running: Running releases endorphins, which are known as the "runner's high" and can boost your mood. It has been found to be an effective alternative treatment for depression. Running consistently can also improve sleep quality, which is essential for managing anxiety and depression.

Strength training: Strength training not only helps build muscle but also lowers the risk of developing depression and relieves existing symptoms. You can do strength training exercises at home using free weights, resistance bands, or your body weight.

Yoga: Yoga combines physical movement with meditation and can help relax your mind and body. It activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes relaxation and lowers heart rate and blood pressure. Yoga offers a variety of styles to choose from based on your preferences and fitness level.

Dancing: Dancing is a fun and effective exercise for reducing anxiety and increasing self-esteem. You can choose the type of dancing that suits you best, whether it's tango, free-flow movement, or virtual dance classes at home. Group dancing, like Zumba, can also provide social benefits and help form connections with others.

To start incorporating exercise into your routine for mental health, consider these practical tips:

Choose an activity you enjoy: Find an exercise that you genuinely enjoy doing to make it more sustainable.

Set realistic goals: Set small and achievable goals to avoid feeling overwhelmed and maintain motivation.

Reward yourself: Reward yourself for completing workouts to create a positive association with exercise.

Make it a social activity: Exercise with friends or join group classes to add social interaction and accountability.

Remember, while exercise can be beneficial for managing mental health symptoms, it is not a substitute for therapy or medication when needed. It is essential to consult with a healthcare professional for a comprehensive treatment plan.

Remember, while exercise can be beneficial for managing mental health symptoms, it is not a substitute for therapy or medication when needed. It is essential to consult with a healthcare professional for a comprehensive treatment plan.


About the Creator

Reader insights

Be the first to share your insights about this piece.

How does it work?

Add your insights


There are no comments for this story

Be the first to respond and start the conversation.

Sign in to comment

    Find us on social media

    Miscellaneous links

    • Explore
    • Contact
    • Privacy Policy
    • Terms of Use
    • Support

    © 2023 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.