Why Moving Matters: Movement as Medicine for Mental Health

Kid running on lake. Happy child run in lake on summer vacation. Sporty young child jogging and training outdoor

During a recent commute, I stumbled upon a podcast conversation that struck a chord deep within me. Dave Biddler, the founder of Physiology First, eloquently stated, “It’s not that exercise is an anti-depressant. It’s that not exercising is a depressant. There’s a big Difference.” These words resonated profoundly with me, challenging my perception of the relationship between movement and mental well-being.

As someone who has always embraced an active lifestyle, from my days as a performance gymnast to my present role as a positive psychologist, the significance of movement in my life cannot be overstated. I’ve witnessed first-hand how exercise has been both a constant companion during times of joy and a beacon of hope during moments of darkness.

So why does movement matter so much to mental health?

In a world where stress often feels like an unwelcome guest, movement emerges as a guiding light. Engaging in physical activity, whether it’s a leisurely stroll through nature, a dynamic yoga practice, or an impromptu dance session, triggers a cascade of biochemical reactions within us. Endorphins, those delightful neurotransmitters responsible for feelings of happiness and euphoria, flood our brains, uplifting our spirits and easing our burdens.

Moreover, as a former primary teacher, I’ve witnessed the transformative power of movement in children. From fostering creativity and focus to nurturing resilience and social connection, physical activity lays the foundation for robust mental well-being from a young age. Movement becomes not only a means of self-expression but also a language through which children navigate the complexities of their world. But movement isn’t just for the young—it’s a lifelong companion on the journey towards mental well-being. As a gymnastics coach, I’ve observed how mastering new skills in the gym fosters discipline, determination, and resilience. Each triumph, whether conquering a fear or overcoming a setback, strengthens not only the body but also the mind. 

Perhaps the most beautiful aspect of movement is its ability to cultivate mindfulness and presence. Whether practicing yoga, tai chi, or simply taking a mindful walk, movement invites us to inhabit the present moment fully. In this state of flow, we find solace, clarity, and purpose, letting go of past worries and future anxieties. 

As we celebrate Mental Health Awareness Week, let’s lace up our shoes, stretch our limbs, and embrace the dance of well-being. Whether you’re a seasoned athlete or a novice explorer, there’s a form of movement waiting to nourish your body, mind, and soul.

Not sure where to begin? Here are five top tips to get you started:

1. Find Your Joyful Movement: Explore different forms of exercise until you find what brings you joy, whether it’s dancing, hiking, swimming, or gardening.

2. Prioritize Consistency Over Intensity: Aim for regular, moderate exercise rather than sporadic bursts of intense activity. Even just 30 minutes of movement a day can make a world of difference.

3. Listen to Your Body: Pay attention to how your body feels and give yourself permission to rest and recover when needed.

4. Connect with Nature: Take your workouts outdoors whenever possible to reap the added benefits of nature’s healing power.

5. Practice Mindful Movement: Approach exercise as a form of meditation in motion, focusing on the sensations of your breath and the beauty of the present moment.

By incorporating these tips into your routine, you can harness the full potential of movement as a powerful tool for nurturing your mental health and cultivating a life of vitality, resilience, and joy.

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