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Exercise and mental health recovery

3-minute read

Exercise can assist in mental health recovery. You can start slowly, and work on overcoming obstacles like motivation, cost and time.

Benefits of exercise to your mental health

Exercise can:

  • improve your mood and sense of wellbeing if you have depression, anxiety or schizophrenia
  • help you feel more confident as you realise that you can do what you set out to do
  • take your mind off your worries
  • put you in touch with other people

Exercise can also:

  • help keep your weight under control, which is a problem caused by some medications
  • reduce the chance of you getting diabetes and heart disease

Tips to get you started

You don’t need to visit a gym to exercise. Consider ways you can incorporate exercise into your daily routine and lifestyle. Pick something you enjoy, and use your friends or family as motivators to keep you on track.

  • Enjoy the benefits of owning a pet - if you own a dog, make the most of your local area for their walks. You could walk in a park or by a beach if they are nearby.
  • If you enjoy dancing, try a creative dance movement class.
  • If you can’t move around easily, swimming might work for you.
  • Seated exercise is an option for people with a disability.

For walking, a pedometer helps you set goals by monitoring your steps, aiming for 8,000 to 10,000 steps per day. Exercise is also a good time to try mindfulness self-awareness training.

Jean Hailes for Women’s Health has a list of activities for men and women to give you some ideas on where to start.

Overcoming obstacles

  • Motivation: You may struggle with motivation for exercise. Start slow, set small goals, and use a mood monitor to keep track of any change in your mood.
  • Cost: Local community centres often have affordable exercise groups. And if you have private health insurance, you might get assistance for gym membership as part of a mental health care plan.
  • Anxiety or feeling intimidated: You might feel uncomfortable joining a group exercise class. This is perfectly normal. Take a friend with you for the first time, or download an app to exercise in your own home.
  • Time: If you are short on time, break exercise into small chunks. Instead of doing 30 minutes in one go, do three lots of 10 minutes in a day.
  • Physical: if physical obstacles such as injuries are making it difficult to exercise, you may benefit from seeing a health professional such as a physiotherapist to help you recover.

Where to get support

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: March 2018

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