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Exercise is about more than keeping in shape. It also can help with your emotional and mental health. Exercise can help you improve your self-esteem, keep your mind off problems, and give you a sense of control. In general, people who are fit have less anxiety, depression, and stress than people who are not active.
Research suggests that exercise can help specific mental health problems. Exercise may help prevent depression from coming back (relapse) and improve symptoms of mild depression.footnote 1
Moderate exercise is safe for most people, but it's a good idea to talk with your doctor before increasing your activity. Anyone age 65 or older should talk with a doctor before exercise.
It can be hard to be active when you feel depressed or anxious or have a mental health problem. But activity can help you feel better, so do your best to find a way to be active. It's fine to start with small steps. You can build up from a few minutes a day.
Do your best to slowly work up to moderate activity for at least 2½ hours a week. Moderate activity means things like brisk walking, brisk cycling, or shooting baskets. But any activities-including daily chores-that raise your heart rate can be included. Find a pace that is comfortable. You can be active in blocks of 10 minutes or more throughout your day and week.
If you have problems exercising on your own, ask someone to exercise with you or join an exercise group or health club.
For more information, see the topic Fitness: Getting and Staying Active.
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CitationsWiles NJ, et al. (2007). Physical activity and common mental disorders: Results from the Caerphilly study. American Journal of Epidemiology, 165(8): 946-954.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerKathleen Romito, MD - Family MedicineE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal MedicineAdam Husney, MD - Family MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerChristine R. Maldonado, PhD - Behavioral Health
Current as ofMarch 13, 2017
Current as of: March 13, 2017
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Christine R. Maldonado, PhD - Behavioral Health
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