Mental Health and Exercise – How to Get Started and How to Stay Motivated

Mental Health and Exercise – How to Get Started and How to Stay Motivated

In our last post, we explored the mental health benefits of exercise, in this article we are going to explore how you can get started, and more importantly how to stay motivated.

Firstly, we are going to start with a review of how physical activity can improve the symptoms of conditions such as depression and anxiety, before looking at types of activity, and most importantly how to start your exercise program and how to stay motivated and keep that momentum going.

Depression and anxiety: Exercise eases symptoms

We completely understand that when you are feeling anxious or depressed, exercise may be the last thing on your mind. However, once you find that motivation, you will experience for yourself just how big of an impact exercise can have on your mental health.

Exercise doesn’t only improve physical ailments such as high blood pressure, arthritis and diabetes, it can actually help to prevent them. But the benefits of exercise go far beyond physical health and have been shown to improve overall mood and reduce anxiety.

Whilst the links between depression, anxiety and exercise are not exactly clear, there is a direct correlation between physical activity and a reduction in the symptoms of mental health. It’s also been shown that keeping up with your program can help prevent symptoms from returning once you are feeling better.

For more about the benefits of exercise on mental health, you can read our previous article here.

Types of Activity That Can Ease the Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety

Some research suggests that physical activity such as getting your steps in – not just formal exercise programs – can improve your mood. Physical activity and exercise aren’t the same thing, but both can have a massive impact on your physical and mental health.

Physical activity is more passive. It includes any activity that works the muscles and requires energy, it can include your work (if you are in a physical role), housework or leisure activities like walking the dog, or leisurely cycling to work.

Exercise is classically defined as a planned, structured and oftentimes repetitive body movement done to intentionally improve or maintain fitness levels. Exercise goes far beyond just running laps and can encapsulate a wide range of activities that boost your fitness level and work to make you feel better.

Whilst running, lifting weights, playing a game of fives, jumping in for an EDA 40 class and other forms of exercise that get your heart pumping does help, it’s not the only way to ease the symptoms. Equally, if you are at the start of your fitness journey engaging in activities like gardening, walking the dog or any less intense activity that gets you off the couch and moving, can help improve your mood.

You don’t have to settle on a singular type of exercise or physical activity at the start, we encourage you to broaden the way you think of exercise and look at ways to add small amounts of activity into your day.

How do I get started — and stay motivated?

Honestly, starting and sticking to an exercise routine or regular physical activity can be a real challenge. We know ourselves, just how tough it can be, and please don’t be too hard on yourself if you do fall off the wagon, that’s why we call it a fitness journey, there is no final destination and everyone chooses their own path. The tips below are designed to give you the best chance of starting and sticking to it as possible.

Identify what you actually enjoy. By understanding the activities you enjoy doing, we find you are far more likely to find ways to incorporate them into your day. When thinking about what you enjoy doing, also spend some time thinking about the time you are most likely to enjoy doing it. For instance, if you are more likely to spend some time chilling out doing some gardening in the evening pencil that in, or if you are a morning person why not start the day with a sunrise jog, or go for a bike ride with the kids when they finish school. Just start by picking activities you enjoy, we guarantee you are more likely to stick to it than if you hate it.

Get your mental health professional's support. If you are already working with a doctor or mental health professional seek their guidance and support. If they have exercises or programs that have successfully helped others in the past, these can be great places to start. If your medical team have given you advice, guidance or support you can also let your PT or coach know and they can help figure out how to incorporate these movements into your training sessions.

Set reasonable goals. We don’t expect you to go from little activity to 5 gruelling GPP workouts per week, that wouldn’t be realistic. Think about where you would like to see yourself in 3 months, and break this down into smaller, achievable goals and build gradually. Tailor your plan to your own needs and your own abilities, hitting smaller goals, consistently over time can be a great mood booster!

Don't think of it as a chore. If you feel like exercise is just something you should be doing but currently aren’t, you can begin to associate exercise with failing. Rather, look at your training or activity schedule the same way you look at therapy sessions or medication – look at it as one of the tools that will help you get better.

Understand your barriers. We must understand what’s preventing us from being active and exercising. For example, if you feel self-conscious why not try working out or training at home (we offer online training, for those that don’t feel comfortable in a gym environment, you can find out more here). If you know you train better with a friend or even just like having the accountability of training with a partner, reach out to your friends and find out what sort of activities they enjoy and do something together. If you can identify what’s holding you back, you can identify how to overcome it or find an alternative.

We want you to prepare yourself for setbacks and obstacles, they happen. But we also want you to celebrate every win, no matter how small. Did you go for a walk around the block today? Amazing! Did you go to a fitness class with a friend? Incredible. Did you clean the house? Fantastic job! If it gets you moving and feeling better, even if just a little that’s amazing. If you miss one day, please don’t beat yourself up, just try again tomorrow. Stick with it. You’ve got this.

If you are looking to get back into training or to begin your fitness journey, we can help. Our expert coaching team can take you through the fundamentals of exercising to hitting PB’s in ultra-challenging GPP’s, whatever will help you hit your goals we can help. You can find out more about our memberships here, or if you are looking to understand more feel free to reach out to a member of the team here.


Cooney GM, et al. Exercise for depression.

Zschucke E, et al. Exercise and physical activity in mental disorders: Clinical and experimental evidence. Journal of Preventive Medicine and Public Health.

Anderson E, et al. Effects of exercise and physical activity on anxiety. Frontiers in Psychiatry.

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