Everyone knows that exercising your body promotes physical health, but did you know there are exercises you can do to improve your mental health? Things like writing, stretching and meditation only take a few minutes and are beneficial for full-body wellness.

What Are Mental Health Exercises?

So what exactly are mental health exercises? Mental health exercises are activities or practices that help improve and maintain your overall well-being. When you do things that are healthy for your mind and body, the “feel-good” hormones—dopamine, serotonin and endorphins—are released, which helps lessen symptoms of depression and anxiety. 

The right combination of mental health exercises can help you feel good, have a more positive outlook and better manage stress. 

10 Best Exercises for Mental Health

1. Meditate

Meditation is a great way to help calm the mind and body and get you out of the fight or flight zone. Meditation also works proactively by helping you learn to stay calm during stressful situations. It doesn’t have to be complicated: listen to a guided meditation, set your gaze on a single point of focus (like a candle) and try to only think about the flame, or do a few minutes of deep diaphragmatic breathing.

2. Hike

Spending time in nature has been shown to increase feelings of calmness, reduce irritability and symptoms of anxiety and depression, reduce cortisol, lower blood pressure and increase concentration. If you don’t have access to hiking, try local rail trails, ponds and parks. 

3. Stretch in the Sunshine

Getting a few minutes of natural sunlight first thing in the morning can improve sleep, reduce stress and boost your immune response. And if you’re one of the many Americans lacking in vitamin D, you could probably use the extra rays. If weather allows, take a few minutes each day to step outside and do some stretches (or try a series of sun salutations) and ease your body into the day.

4. Be Creative

Take time to indulge in something creative—writing, painting, drawing, playing guitar, crafting, crocheting. Whether it’s a hobby you used to enjoy or something new you’ve always wanted to try, getting lost in the creative process is good for the soul and your mental health. And don’t put pressure on yourself to be “good at it,” just have fun. 

5. Write a Daily Journal Entry or Gratitude List

Make a list of all the things you’re grateful for or all the positive things about yourself and your life. Put it somewhere you’ll see every day—in your day planner, or on the fridge or bathroom mirror. Having a list of all the good things in your life can help pull you out of a negative thought cycle.

6. Schedule Time Regularly With Loved Ones

Motivational speaker Jim Rohn says that “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Notice how you feel after spending time with certain people.  Do you feel happy and invigorated or depleted and sad? Spend time with people who make you feel loved and accepted and can make you laugh. If you’re feeling lonely or sad, reach out to a trusted friend or family member and talk.

7. Start a Yoga Practice

Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word “yuj” which means to yoke, join or unite the mind, body and spirit. In addition to the physical benefits like improved strength and flexibility, yoga also has mental health benefits like improved focus, reduced stress, anxiety and depression. It also reduces heart and breathing rates and lowers blood pressure and cortisol levels to create a feeling of calm. For extra-calming vibes, try yoga nidra (a soothing, meditative yoga sometimes referred to as yogic sleep), which has been shown to significantly reduce anxiety and stress. Time to roll out your mat and breathe your way to bliss.

8. Dance

Whether it’s with a group of friends, a partner or alone, dancing is fun and lifts your spirits. No matter what form you choose—ballet, tap, hip-hop, belly dancing, line dancing, salsa or free-flow—dancing is a creative way to improve your mental health.  

As a matter of fact, dance movement therapy is a recognized protocol that uses movement to promote mind, body and spirit integration. Dancing not only improves your mood, it can also improve your brain function, especially as you age. Learning new dance steps, memorizing choreography, and the socializing that comes with dancing all help keep your mind sharp and improve memory.

9. Sleep

Sleep is incredibly beneficial for your health. While you’re busy resting, your body is hard at work repairing and recharging yourself for the day. (If you think about it, sleep is the most important exercise of all!) Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep a night. Figure out how much you need to feel your best and work backward to set your bedtime. Keeping a regular sleep schedule is important so do your best to head to bed the same time every night—yes, even on the weekends. Power down for the evening by dimming the lights, and shutting off the TV, computer and cell phone.

10. Laugh

Laughter is truly the best medicine, and there’s science to prove it.  Laughing increases the intake of oxygen, stimulates the heart and lungs, contracts the abs and exercises the shoulders. This results in muscle relaxation, plus reduced blood pressure, heart and respiratory rate, cortisol and adrenaline levels. It also increases endorphin levels. A 2018 study reported that on average, a child laughs 300 times a day while an adult only laughs 17 times a day. How can you get more laughs in your life? Go to a comedy show, or watch your favorite sitcom or funny movie. Curate your news feed to appeal to your sense of humor, and scour YouTube for some chuckles.

Become a Health & Life Coach

Are you interested in learning how you can help others create healthy habits? Join HCI’s Become a Health & Life Coach program to learn about health, wellness, diet and nutrition. For those looking to make a career shift, you can begin coaching in as little as six months. If you’re already a coach and want to advance your skills, check out HCI’s Coach Mastery program. Feel free to get in touch with one of our clarity coaches directly by calling 1-800-303-2399.


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