How Daily Exercise Helps Improve Wellbeing

Regular physical activity can help ward off depression and anxiety
Guest article by Suzanne Jessee, C.E.O. Anew Era TMS and Anew Era Psychiatry

Try as we might to ignore the evidence, there is no denying that getting some form of regular exercise is essential to attaining overall wellbeing, both physical and mental. Whether you claim to be allergic to the idea of exercise or embrace it wholeheartedly, the fact remains that something as simple as taking a daily walk has the power to boost mood and stave off anxiety. The mounting evidence that supports the connection between exercise and mental health makes it increasingly difficult to ignore.

Evidence that Exercise Positively Impacts Mental Health

A slew of studies have been conducted that collectively support the positive effects of exercise on mental health. James Blumenthal, Ph.D. from Duke University conducted a series of controlled trials to compare depression scores between four groups, including one with supervised exercise, one with home-based exercise, one with antidepressant drug therapy, and one who received a placebo medication. Following a four-month period, Blumenthal concluded that patients from the exercise groups had equivalent remission rates as those in the antidepressant group, and all three of these groups had higher remission scores than the placebo group.

How Exercise Helps Manage Depression and Anxiety

People who exercise regularly have lower rates of depression and just generally feel better. Because of the growing awareness within the clinical community that exercise can enhance emotional wellbeing and help manage mental health disorders, more and more psychotherapists are including exercise into their client’s treatment plans. Some therapists are even conducting sessions while walking with their clients.

The physiological effects of physical activity on brain chemistry are well documented. When an individual engages in exercise their body releases chemicals called endorphins and serotonin that act to produce a natural high. In addition, exercise helps burn cortisol, the stress hormone related to anxiety, helping to achieve a more relaxed state of mind as a result.

Other mental health benefits of exercise include:

  • Exercise also causes the heart to pump more oxygen to the brain, which can lead to increased cell growth in the hippocampus region, improving brain function.
  • Exercise can also serve as a positive distraction from worries or other difficult life situations.
  • Regular exercise leads to a sense of accomplishment, sticking with something and seeing evidence of improved physical appearance and overall fitness.
  • Recreational exercise enhances social interactions and can lead to new friendships.
  • Exercise is a healthy alternative to other potentially destructive or addicting symptom-management efforts that rely on a substance.
  • Getting regular exercise leads to better sleep quality and increased interest in sex, improving mood.

Exercise Augments Treatment for Depression and/or Anxiety

While exercise in itself has been shown to benefit individuals who struggle with depression and/or anxiety, it is best employed as a complementary therapy to psychotherapy, antidepressant drug therapy, or TMS therapy.

  • Psychotherapy. Psychotherapy involves direct conversation with a clinical therapist where the client will share specific issues that may be contributing factors to the depression or anxiety. Through individual or group therapy, the clinician will guide the client through the steps that allow them to process the issue and heal.
  • Antidepressants. Antidepressant drug therapy involves the doctor selecting a particular drug that may help to normalize brain chemistry and help alleviate the symptoms of depression. Antidepressants are effective in about half of clients who undertake this drug therapy. Some individuals are on antidepressants and still depressed.
  • TMS therapy. TMS therapy is a brain stimulation technique that harnesses magnetic energy and directing it toward the brain region that regulates mood, concentration, decision-making, and other functions. By stimulating dormant neurons, brain chemistry can be recalibrated, improving depression symptoms.

Including a regular exercise regimen into the overall treatment plan can enhance the effectiveness of proven treatment modalities. Patients who embrace regular physical activity increase the changes of therapeutic success.

Cardio exercise

Physical activities that increase heart rate for a sustained time period, usually a minimum of 20 minutes, is the most advantageous to mental health. Cardio activities can range from mild to strenuous, providing options for all ages and fitness levels. Exercise does not have to hurt to be effective! A brisk 20-minute walk can have amazing long-term effects for improved mental health. Some cardio options include:

  • Walking
  • Jogging
  • Running
  • Cycling
  • Swimming
  • Hiking


Low impact workouts are very beneficial as well. These types of activities tend to feature slow, deliberate movements that focus on elongating joints and muscles, but also produce an elevated heart rate that leads to reduction in depression and anxiety symptoms. These activities include:

  • Yoga
  • Mat Pilates
  • Pilates on a reformer
  • Stretching classes
  • Barre exercise

High intensity interval training (HIIT)

HIIT combines a variety of types of exercise into one session, with choreographed transitions between each type, all including quick bursts of activity alternating with active recovery. HIIT programs usually include cardio segments, such as treadmill work, rowing, cycling, jumping rope, and weight training segments using free weights, balls, and suspension trainers.

Recreational exercise

Not everyone is interested in doing exercise in the classic senses. Individuals will find their depression symptoms lift by participating in recreational activities that not only help increase heart rate and work muscles, but are engaging and fun at the same time. Some ideas for recreational exercise include:

  • Tennis
  • Pickle ball
  • Group nature hikes
  • Dancing, Zumba classes
  • Kayaking
  • Stand-up paddle boarding
  • Horseback riding
  • Skiing
  • Rock climbing

Don’t Forget About Nutrition

When discussing the mental health benefits of getting regular exercise it is important to include the role of good nutrition to fuel those efforts. To optimize health results from physical activity, overhauling one’s diet is essential. For maximum health benefits that will play a part in improving mood and curbing anxiety, a diet rich in the following should be incorporated into the daily routine:

  • Lean proteins, such as turkey, chicken, and lean red meat
  • Omega-3 fatty acids, found in oily fish such as salmon, sardines, and mackerel, as well as walnuts and canola oil
  • Leafy greens, such as spinach, edamame, broccoli, avocado, and artichokes
  • Oatmeal, whole grains, nuts
  • Fresh fruits, such as strawberries, apples, and citrus fruits
  • Eggs

Limiting sugary foods, caffeine, and processed foods will further increase the overall health benefits of this healthy lifestyle.

About the Author

Suzanne Jessee, Founder and C.E.O. of Anew Era TMS and Anew Era Psychiatry and is a TMS industry expert.  Suzanne is a master’s level clinical therapist and addictions counselor with nearly two decades experience in chemical dependency patient care.  Her passion for improving patients’ mental health and her expertise in the TMS Therapy and alternative treatments for depression make her a leader in the TMS patient services industry.  In addition, Suzanne is a published author, PBS show host, educator, and facilitator.