For You: A Perspective On Overcoming Mental Health “Obstacles” To Getting Into Physical Activity & Exercise For Mental Health



Yes there is the physical aspect of getting into physical activity and exercise one must consider, yet what may be more powerful is finding ways to overcome our own mental health “obstacles” or reasons why we are not getting into physical activity or exercise.

So now you know that exercise will help you feel much better and that it doesn’t take as much effort as you might have thought. But taking that first step is still easier said than done. Physical activity and exercise obstacles are very real—particularly when you’re also struggling with mental health. In this post, I will examine some potential barriers we may have and some ways to help get past them..

Overcoming Potential Mental Health Obstacles To Getting Into Physical Activity & Exercise

  • Feeling exhausted. When you’re tired or stressed, it feels like being physically active or working out will just make it worse. But the truth is that physical activity is a powerful energizer. Studies show that participating in regular physical activity/exercise can dramatically reduce fatigue and increase your energy levels. If you are really feeling tired, promise yourself a 5-minute walk. Chances are you’ll be able to go five more minutes.


  • Feeling overwhelmed. When you’re stressed or depressed, the thought of adding another obligation can seem overwhelming. Being physical active or doing exercises just doesn’t seem doable. If you have children, managing childcare while you exercise can be a big hurdle. Just remember that physical activity and exercise helps us do everything else better. If you begin thinking of physical activity as a priority, you will soon find ways to fit small amounts in a busy schedule.


  • Feeling of hopeless. Even if you’re starting at “ground zero,” you can still be physically active and do exercises. If you have no experience exercising, start slow with low-impact movement a few minutes each day.


  • Feeling pain. If you have a disability, severe weight problem, arthritis, or any injury or illness that limits your mobility, talk to your healthcare provider about ways to safely exercise. You shouldn’t ignore pain, but rather do what you can, when you can. Divide your exercise into shorter, more frequent chunks of time if that helps, or try exercising in water to reduce joint or muscle discomfort.


  • Feeling bad about yourself. Are you your own worst critic? It’s time to try a new way of thinking about your body. No matter what your weight, age or fitness level, there are others like you with the goals of getting fit. Try surrounding yourself with people in your shoes. Take a class with people at a variety of fitness levels. Accomplishing even the smallest fitness goals will help you gain body confidence.

Getting Started In Physical Activity & Exercising When You Are Anxious or Depressed

Many of us find it hard enough to motivate ourselves to exercise at the best of times. When we feel depressed, anxious, stressed or have other mental or emotional problems, it can be doubly difficult. This is especially true of depression and anxiety, and it can leave you feeling trapped in a catch-22 situation.

You know being physically active or doing exercise will make you feel better, but depression has robbed you of the energy and motivation you need to exercise, or your social anxiety means you can’t bear the thought of being doing physically active movements or be seen at an exercise class or even doing some brisk walking through the park. So, what can you do?

It’s okay to start small. In fact, it’s smart.

When you’re under the cloud of an emotional disorder and haven’t exercised for a long time, setting yourself extravagant goals like completing a marathon or working out for an hour every morning will only leave you more despondent if you fall short. Better to set yourself achievable goals and build up from there.

Schedule your workout at the time of day when your energy is highest

That may be first thing in the morning before work or school, or at lunchtime before the mid-afternoon lull hits, or in longer sessions at the weekend. If depression or anxiety has you feeling tired and unmotivated all day long, try dancing to some music or simply going for a walk. Even a short, 6-minute walk can help clear your mind, improve your mood, and boost your energy level. As you move and start to feel a little better, you’ll experience a greater sense of control over your well-being. You may even feel energized enough to do your movements with a bit more vigor — by walking further, breaking into a faster pace, or adding a bike ride or aqua class for example.

Some Other Ways For Staying Motivated – When You May Be Struggling with Mental Health

  • Focus on physical activities or exercises you enjoy.  These will get  you moving and that  counts. That could include throwing a Frisbee with a dog or friend, walking laps of a mall window shopping, or cycling or walking  to the grocery store. If you’ve never participated in physical activity or have done exercise before or don’t know what you might enjoy, try a few different things. Activities such as gardening or tackling a home improvement project can be great ways to start moving more when you have a mood disorder—as well as helping you become more active, they can also leave you with a sense of purpose and accomplishment.


  • Be comfortable. Whatever time of day you decide to do physical activity (including house work), or exercise, wear clothing that’s comfortable and choose a setting that you find calming or energizing. That may be a quiet corner of your home, a scenic path, or your favorite city park.


  • Reward yourself. Part of the reward of completing a physical activity or exercise is how much better you’ll feel afterwards, but it always helps your motivation to promise yourself an extra treat for exercising. Reward yourself with a hot bubble bath after a workout, a delicious smoothie, or with an extra episode of your favorite TV show.


  • Make being physically active or doing exercise a social activity. Being physically active or doing exercising with a friend or loved one, or even your kids will not only make exercising more fun and enjoyable, it can also help to motivate you to stick to a workout routine. You’ll also feel better than exercising alone. In fact, when you’re suffering from a mood disorder such as depression, the companionship can be just as important as the exercise.

Bonus: Easy Ways To Be Physically Active / Do Exercise and Move  More Without Going To The Gym

Don’t have 30 minutes to dedicate to yoga or a bike ride? Don’t worry. Think about physical activity as a lifestyle rather than just a single task to check off. Look at your daily routine and consider ways to sneak in activity here, there, and everywhere. Need ideas? Here is a few of  them.

  • In and around your home. Clean the house, wash the car, tend to the yard and garden, mow the lawn with a push mower, sweep the sidewalk or patio with a broom.


  • At work and on the go. Bike or walk to an appointment rather than drive, banish all elevators and get to know every staircase possible, briskly walk to the bus stop then get off one stop early, park at the back of the lot and walk into the store or office, take a vigorous walk during your coffee break.


  • With the family. A quick walk or light jog around the soccer field during your kid’s practice, make a neighborhood bike ride part of weekend routine, play tag with your children in the yard, go canoeing at a lake, walk the dog in a new place.


  • Just for fun. Pick fruit at an orchard, boogie to music, go to the beach or take a hike, gently stretch while watching television, organize an office bowling team, take a class in martial arts, dance, or yoga.

Final Thoughts …

Make physical activity and exercise a fun part of your everyday life. You don’t have to spend hours in a gym or force yourself into long, monotonous physical activities or  workouts to experience the many benefits of being active and doing exercise. I trust these tips can help you find activities you enjoy and start to feel better, look better, and get more out of life.

In health,

Francois, MES, CLT, KTP, HBPE

Founder & Chief Medical Exercise Specialist @ the Other Pain Clinic


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