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Daily Movement for Better Mental Health

March 23, 2022

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We don’t have to be told that too much stagnation and screen time damages our physical and mental health. Two years of social distancing and work-from-home routines have led to less time spent moving our bodies and more time spent sitting inside, staring at screens. 

Now, many of us feel the itch to improve our physical well being. Some of us will race to the nearest gym and put our bodies through sweat-inducing workouts. Others of us will be so intimidated by our lack of movement that we avoid exercise all together. We often approach physical movement with this ‘all or nothing’ mindset. 

In reality, all forms of movement are beneficial for our bodies and minds. Whether it’s a high intensity workout or 15 minute walk, daily movement looks different for everyone: there’s no one-size fits all approach. 

Here are a few of the benefits of moving your body on a daily basis:

  1. Releases endorphins and increases serotonin levels: the “feel good” hormones 
  2. Allows us to take a break from everyday challenges and responsibilities 
  3. Helps emotions move through our bodies
  4. Provides an outlet for self expression
  5. Strengthens our connection with our bodies 
  6. Regulates our sleep patterns
  7. Improves our energy levels
  8. Increases our concentration and stimulates growth of new brain cells 
  9. Boosts our immune system and reduces the impact of stress
  10. Improves our self-esteem, makes us feel strong, and powerful

Here are a few tips to increase your daily physical movement:

Start small 

If you don’t have time in your day to head to the gym or follow a 30 minute home workout, or if your body tells you to take a break after 10 minutes, don’t fret. Start with 5-10 minute sessions of manageable movement, such as stretching before bed or walking around the office.

You can increase your physical movement with time; the key is to commit yourself to some form of moderate physical activity everyday, even if it’s just 5 minutes. 

As exercise becomes more automatic, you can slowly add extra minutes or different forms of activities to your routine. 

Exercise when your energy is highest 

To develop and follow a solid exercise plan, ask yourself when your energy levels are highest and what’s realistic for you. 

Are you someone who wakes up with lots of energy? Do you have more energy at lunchtime before the mid-afternoon lull? Try to schedule your physical activity when your energy levels are highest to enjoy the movement and build accountability. 

If depression or anxiety has you feeling tired or unmotivated all day long, try dancing to music or walking around the block. Light exercise can give you the same mental health effects as higher intensity exercise: clearing your mind, boosting your energy levels, and improving your mood. 

5-minutes of exercise every hour 

If you can’t dedicate a block of time in your day to exercising, try moving for a few minutes every hour. Add 5 minutes of movement to your calendar, and set your timer. 

If you’re working an eight hour work day, these 5 minutes of movement every hour add up to 40 minutes a day!

Make movement fun

Any activity that gets your body moving- throwing a frisbee, cycling to work, walking laps around the park, stretching- all count as exercise. Find a physical activity that you enjoy! 

If you hate running, don’t start with a run because someone told you that it’s good for weight-loss. If you’re a morning person, sign up for an early morning vinyasa flow. 

If you haven’t exercised in a long time, and don’t know where to start, try a few different activities like gardening or home improvement projects that help you become more active, and leave you feeling accomplished. 

Make movement a social activity

Exercise with a friend or family member, or even your kids! Other people keep you accountable. 

If you spend a lot of your day working alone, you might feel better exercising with others. 

Schedule a tennis match with your coworker, walk laps around the track with your friend, or join a yoga studio. Stronger exercise habits can strengthen your relationships by spending more quality time with your loved ones!

If you’re suffering from a mood disorder such as depression, the social component can be as beneficial as the exercise.

Move in and around your house

If you can’t get to the gym or dedicate 30 minutes to a bike ride, turn to your favorite at-home chores: wash the dishes, clean the house, tend to your garden, mow the lawn with the push mower. 

Tip: Try adding some weight to your short home workouts using objects around the house, like a can of beans or sack of sugar.

Reward yourself

Rewarding yourself after a physical activity allows you to feel a sense of accomplishment and purpose. Plus, promising yourself a reward for exercising encourages you to exercise again. Treat yourself with a hot bubble bath, a delicious smoothie, or an extra episode of your favorite TV show. 

While we know consistently that physical activity improves mental health, it’s important to acknowledge the shadow side of physical activity. Some people may use exercise as a way to exert control over their bodies, alter their appearance, or use it to determine what and how much they eat. 

An intuitive relationship with movement looks like:

Your physical activity: 

  • Helps you feel connected to your body
  • Makes you feel stronger, more flexible or have greater endurance
  • Allows for rest and sick days
  • Helps you alleviate stress
  • Is enjoyable
  • Is responsive to your needs
  • Can move down on your priority list
  • Includes different types of movement
  • Is respectful to your body’s limits

A potentially harmful relationship with movement looks like:

Your physical activity:

  • Is all or nothing
  • Allows for very few or no rest days
  • Must meet specific requirements to “count”
  • Doesn’t include rest or time off for illness or injury
  • Feels like something you are required to do 
  • Takes priority over other areas in life (relationships, rest, socializing, etc.) 
  • Causes you to feel upset or anxious if you miss a workout
  • Determines what you are allowed to eat based on activity level or calories burned

Evaluating our relationship with movement, finding activities that inspire us, and figuring out how we can engage in the activity on a daily basis is all part of building a positive relationship with daily movement.

About The Author

Nettie Hoagland Headshot

Nettie Hoagland is a writer with experience in local news reporting, nonprofit communications, and community development. She earned her bachelor of arts degree in Media Studies, Journalism, and Digital Arts from Saint Michael’s College in Vermont. Nettie believes in the healing power of the arts to create connection and community. She is passionate about using writing as an instrument for personal and social growth in the field of mental health. She is currently based in Brooklyn, NY.