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URMC / BHP / BHP Blog / July 2019 / Exercise for Improved Mental Health

Exercise for Improved Mental Health

By: Matthew Teal, LCSW-R, CASAC

A patient complains to their doctor about having low energy. After ruling out some possible physical causes, and seeing the patient’s positive screening for depression, one of the Doctor’s recommendations is for the patient to consider starting an exercise routine. The patient, baffled, replies "Doc, I have never seen someone smiling while jogging."

So, why should a person take up jogging or dance when it takes so much effort? Why would anyone want to lift weights when they can be so heavy? The most common answer is that it is good for our physical health. Additionally, evidence suggests exercise may also have a significant impact on our mental health. Aerobic exercise, including cycling, walking, jogging, swimming, and even gardening have been proven to reduce anxiety, depression and negative mood. Regular exercise can even help reduce the likelihood that someone will become depressed or anxious.

You may not be smiling mid-run, but you could experience some of the following benefits from exercise:

  • Better sleep
  • Increased self-esteem
  • Improved cognitive functioning
  • Increased interest in sex
  • Better endurance
  • Stress relief
  • Improvement in mood
  • Increased energy and stamina
  • Reduced tiredness that can increase mental alertness
  • Weight reduction
  • Reduced cholesterol and improved cardiovascular fitness

Sometimes depression and anxiety drain our energy and make exercise seem impossible. If that’s the case, think about taking advantage of one of the WELL-U programs to help you get moving again. Life-Work Connections (EAP), or Behavioral Health Partners (BHP) can offer the emotional support or mental health services you need to get back on the right track.


Behavioral Health Partners’ services are available to eligible University of Rochester staff and faculty who are enrolled in a University Health Care Plan. Services are also available to non-Medicare eligible retirees, and employees’ and retirees’ covered family members ages 18 and over, who are enrolled in a University Health Care Plan.


  1. Richardson CR, Faulkner G, and McDevitt J. et al. Integrating physical activity into mental health services for persons with serious mental illness. Psychiatric Serv. 2005 56:324–331.
  2. Callaghan P. Exercise: a neglected intervention in mental health care? J Psychiatry Mental Health Nurse. 2004;11:476–483.
  3. Guszkowska M. Effects of exercise on anxiety, depression and mood [in Polish] Psychiatr Pol. 2004;38:611–620.
  4. Peluso MA, Andrade LH. Physical activity and mental health: the association between exercise and mood. Clinics. 2005;60:61–70.
  5. Fogarty M, Happell B, Pinikahana J. The benefits of an exercise program for people with schizophrenia: a pilot study. Psychiatr Rehabil J. 2004;28:173–176. 

Keith Stein | 7/3/2019

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