Movement for Mental Health

Published - Jan 05, 2021

Considering the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic along with the winter gloom, many of us may be facing hardships affecting not only our physical health but our mental well-being. Feelings of stress, anxiety and depression are not uncommon to experience during this time. Regular physical activity has been shown to combat these mental hardships. While this seems evident, we face challenges including gym closures, attempts to remain socially distant, reduced motivation, time constraints, limited resources, etc. So how do we tackle these challenges?

First, it is important to recognize the difference between physical activity and exercise. Exercise is planned, structured and purposeful. It is forced energy expenditure to improve or maintain physical fitness. This is NOT a blog about exercise; my intention is to promote movement. Physical activity is any bodily movement requiring the use of skeletal muscles. Therefore, not all physical activity is considered exercise but still offers great, long-lasting benefits. Common types of physical activity include walking, dancing, household chores (deep cleaning, gardening, etc.), yoga and hiking. Some immediate mental benefits of physical activity include improved self-esteem, improved cognitive function and reduced self-withdrawal.

My favorite way to stay physically active is to walk every day. Lasting benefits of walking a total of 30 minutes per day include:

-Reduced stress levels

-Increased energy and stamina levels

-Reduced anxiety

-Improved quality of sleep

-Improved mood

-Improved blood flow


Walking isn’t for you? That’s okay! Other forms of physical activity also offer great benefits. The most important thing is to find what works best for you. Find a hobby that keeps you moving. Take a dance class online, plant a garden, paint a room in your house, play with your dog.

You can also make adjustments in your daily routine to promote physical activity:

-Park your car farther away at work

-Take the stairs

-Walk your dog every morning or evening

-Play with your kids


We can’t care for ourselves physically if we don’t care for our mental well-being. Many people experience immediate effects from engaging in regular physical activity for 30 minutes per day. Integrate movement into your daily routine, and it will become an enjoyable and therapeutic part of your life with lasting benefits.

“Movement is a medicine for creating change in a person’s physical, emotional and mental states.” – Carol Welch 

Written by: Jessica Quinn, PT, DPT