Mother and Daughter Exercising

Eliciting Endorphins

We all know the good feelings we get after going for a run, completing a physical task, or finishing a workout.  We know from the research that engaging in exercise improves physical health.  For instance, exercise can reduce symptoms of high blood pressure, arthritis, and diabetes.  Research has also shown that engaging in exercise improves mood and reduces anxiety and stress.  We know that exercise can help by:

  • Taking your mind off your symptoms
  • Releasing brain chemicals that enhance your good feelings (endorphins)
  • Improving confidence
  • Allowing for more social connection
  • Providing a healthier way to cope

What Types of Exercise are Effective?

Exercise does not need to be formal or traditional to be effective.  Some examples of types of exercise that have a positive impact on mental health include:

  • Planned, structured cardio exercise, such as using a treadmill or elliptical
  • Repetitive body movement that increases strength, such as using free weights or strength training machines
  • Structured fitness classes such as bootcamps, spin classes, Zumba, yoga, and Pilates
  • Sports activities, both casual and formal team-based (ie baseball, hockey, disc golf)
  • Gardening
  • House cleaning and maintenance
  • Walking
  • Washing your car
  • Going dancing

Choosing exercise that fits with your interests and you look forward to engaging in is always the best option. 

How much exercise is enough?

30 minutes of increased heart rate from exercise, three to five times per week, is the recommended effective dose of exercise for mental health conditions.  This might seem like a lot of exercise, particularly if you lead a more sedentary lifestyle.  Small amounts of exercise can also effective and reducing symptoms.  Engaging in ten to fifteen minutes of exercise a few times a week has been demonstrated to improve mental well-being.

How Do I Commit to an Exercise Plan?

Accountability can be a powerful motivator.  Many people find that engaging with others or setting up appointments with service providers ensures they attend their exercise commitment (eg. Signing up for a fitness class or meeting a friend for a hike).  Deciding to add exercise to your week can be a big change.  Talking about it with loved ones can also help motivate you to stick to your plan, especially if they ask you if you made it to your workout this week! 

If you are interested in learning how to implement exercise into your daily life, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) can also be effective.  CBT uses cognitive, behavioural, and relaxation tools to help individuals’ problem solve and make life changes.  CBT treatment can make setting up an exercise plan more attainable.  If you want to learn more, feel free to set up a free consultation with a therapist at Island Clinical Counselling.

Disclaimer: It is always important to ensure you have medical clearance before beginning an exercise program.  Check with your doctor if you are uncertain if exercise is right for you at this time.

Written by Kathryn Atkinson


Saeed, A., Cunningham, K., & Bloch, R. M. (2019). Depression and anxiety disorders: benefits of exercise, yoga, and meditation. American Family Physician, 99(10).