Health & Wellness

A Natural Boost: How Exercise Benefits Mental Health


Depression and anxiety are on the rise – according to a report from BlueCross BlueShield, diagnoses of major depression increased 47% in 2013 for millennials. A global pandemic like COVID-19 can exacerbate many of the issues that contribute depression, including economic stress, trauma, burnout, drug and alcohol use, and social isolation. So, making an effort to address something that is in our control – like exercise – is something we can all try to do.

We’ve all heard that exercise can be a mood booster. Did you know that there’s science behind that claim?

  • When we work out, our bodies release endorphins and reduce cortisol. These chemicals help lessen anxiety, reduce cravings for drugs and alcohol, boost concentration, and more. 
  • Exercise promotes positive changes in the brain. Neural growth and new activity patterns can help you feel calmer and boost your feelings of wellbeing. 
  • Physical activity can help your muscles relax, which can help relieve tension you feel in your body. When your body feels good, your brain will feel a positive boost too.

Most individuals struggling with their mental health or substance use will experience positive effects when they add some physical activity to their routine – and any actions we can take to boost our mental health are more important than ever right now.

But when going to a gym feels ‘iffy’ and the stress of uncertainty is exhausting, how do you get motivated to get that workout in?

  • Start small. If you are tired, overwhelmed at the thought of adding more to your routine, or think you are ‘out of shape’, start with just five minutes. It could be a walk around the block or gentle stretching – chances are, you’ll want to add another five or 10 minutes!
  • Commit to a social, physical activity. There are many web-based platforms offering connection through exercise – while maintaining a safe physical distance. Look into Garmin-Connect, Strava, and Zwift.
  • Do you thrive on competition? Look for virtual races! From amateur runners to Olympians-in-training, lots of runners are connecting this way to keep the spirit of racing alive.
  • Find virtual options you can do anywhere. There are dozens of free videos on platforms like YouTube, all of which can be done from home – which is key when social distancing is important. Whether it’s a 30-day yoga challenge or 12-week strength and cardio program, pick an option that fits your schedule (and your floorplan!).

In our current state of increased stress, attention to our mental and physical health is vital. If you’re not already engaging in some form of physical exercise, let this be your call to action. And remember – something is better than nothing! If you can motivate yourself to get out, even for just a ten-minute walk today, it’s a step in the right direction.


Meet the Expert

  • Patrick Trentalange, LCSW-C

    Family Therapist, The Retreat at Sheppard Pratt