Exercise + Mental Health

I was recently working with a patient who is a skilled mental health provider. She told me that we have officially entered “SAD” season. While I am familiar with SAD as “Seasonal Affective Disorder,” I didn’t necessarily understand what all it entailed. She explained that the start of daylight savings time means darker evenings, which can often be a trigger for mental health issues like depression. November also means we start preparing for the holidays. Yes, this can be an exciting and fun time, but it can also be highly stressful and stir up anxiety and other difficult emotions. 

Mental health issues are incredibly common, with 1 in every 2 people experiencing a mental health disorder at some point in their life. Yep, HALF of us will struggle with our brains, whether that’s anxiety, depression, disordered eating… the list goes on! Fortunately, we have amazing mental health providers like my patient who have skills and techniques to diagnose and treat these issues. I will leave those providers to do their great work, as that is definitely not in my scope of practice. But I NEED y’all to know about the role of exercise in mental health. 

SO much great research has been published on the positive effects of exercise, ranging from depression and anxiety to psychological distress. These effects have been found in the general population, pregnancy/postpartum population, and even in people with PTSD. Get this: the size of benefit is comparable and slightly larger than medications and psychotherapy.

Again: the mental health benefits from exercise is just as good, or better, than medications and psychotherapy.

Want to hear something else cool? Higher intensity exercise is associated with greater improvements in mental health. Yet another reason why we loooove strength training and hard cardio intervals. 

I firmly believe that medications have their place and psychotherapy is absolutely beneficial – we have really great research to show that, too. Just like diet AND exercise are better for weight loss, counseling AND exercise are better for mental health, with medication being used when appropriate. Unfortunately our health insurance situation does not always allow easy access to affordable mental health services, and medication can have some gnarly side effects.

So if you’re like me and find that you tend to be a little more “blah” with less sunlight or are feeling anxious in anticipation of the upcoming holidays, please please remember the powerful effects of a good, intense workout. If you don’t even want to use your brain to come up with a workout, I’ve got you: 

Mood Boosting Workout #1: 5 rounds as fast as possible

  • 10 body weight squats
  • 10 mountain climbers (each leg) 
  • 15 jumping jacks
  • 8 speed skaters (each leg)
  • 8 push ups

Mood Boosting Workout #2: 8 minute tabata

  • Choose a cardio method (run, bike, row, stairs)
  • Work at high intensity for 20 seconds, then rest for 10 seconds
  • Repeat for 16 rounds (8 minutes) 

Mood Boosting Workout #3: Grab one of our very own strength programs!

ANY form of movement is guaranteed to almost immediately boost your mood. And bonus points if you rally your family or friends during Thanksgiving or Christmas and do it together!

As always, be sure to reach out to us if you need more exercise inspo or are struggling with an injury that’s preventing you from being able to do the things you love. We’re here to help and are cheering you on as we enter the cold months. Happy exercising! 

Dr. Jamie



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