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Exercise may seems like the last thing you want to do when you have depression or anxiety,. But once you start moving and get motivated, exercise can make a big difference in your approach to life and your mood.

Exercise helps prevent and improve numerous health problems, including high blood pressure, diabetes and arthritis. It has also been shown to help improve mood and reduce anxiety.

The links between depression, anxiety and exercise aren't fully understood yet, but working out and other forms of physical activity has been shown to ease symptoms of depression or anxiety and make you feel better. Exercise may also help keep depression and anxiety from coming back once you're feeling better.

Exercise may help ease depression and anxiety by:

Releasing feel-good endorphins, natural cannabis-like brain chemicals (endogenous cannabinoids) and other natural brain chemicals that can enhance your sense of well-being

Taking your mind off fears so you can get away from the sequence of negative thoughts that feed depression and anxiety

Regular exercise has many psychological and emotional benefits, too. It can help you:

Become more confident. Creating and meeting exercise goals or challenges, even small ones, can boost your self-confidence. Getting in shape can also make you feel better about your appearance.

Get more social interaction. Exercise and physical activity may give you the chance to meet or socialize with others. Just exchanging a smile as you walk around your neighborhood can help your mood.

Deal with depression in a healthy way. Doing something positive to cope with depression or anxiety is a healthy strategy.

Some research shows that even physical activity such as regular walking — not just formal exercise programs — may help improve mood. Physical activity and exercise are not the same thing, but both are beneficial to your health.

Physical activity is any movement that works your muscles and requires energy and can include work or household or leisure activities.

Exercise is a scheduled, organized and repetitive body movement done to improve or maintain physical fitness.

Running, lifting weights, playing basketball and other fitness activities that get your heart pumping can help; but so can physical activity such as gardening, washing your car, walking around the block or engaging in other less intense activities. Any physical activity that gets you off the couch and moving can help improve your mood.

Remember, you don't have to do all your exercise or other physical activity at once. Broaden how you think of exercise and find ways to add small amounts of physical activity throughout your day. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Park a little farther away from work to fit in a short walk. Or, if you live close to your job, think about biking to work.

Doing 30 minutes or more of exercise a day for three to five days a week may significantly improve depression or anxiety symptoms. But smaller amounts of physical activity — as little as 10 to 15 minutes at a time — may make a difference. It may take less time exercising to improve your mood when you do more-vigorous activities, such as running or bicycling.

The mental health benefits of exercise and physical activity may last only if you stick with it over the long term — another good reason to focus on finding activities that you enjoy.

Starting and sticking with an exercise routine or regular physical activity can be challenging. These steps may help:

Find something you enjoy doing. Figure out what type of physical activities you're most likely to do, and think about when and how you'd be most likely to follow through. Would you be more likely to do some gardening in the evening, start your day with a jog, or go for a bike ride or play basketball with your children after school? Do what you enjoy to help you stick with it.

Set realistic goals. Your goal doesn't have to be walking for an hour five days a week. Think sensibly about what you may be able to do and begin gradually. Personalize your plan to your own needs and abilities rather than setting unrealistic guidelines that you're unlikely to meet.

Examine your obstacles. Figure out what's stopping you from being physically active or exercising. If you feel self-conscious, for instance, you might want to exercise at home. If you stick to goals better with a partner, find a friend to work out with or who enjoys the same physical activities that you do. If you don't have money to spend on exercise gear, do something that's cost-free, such as regular walking. If you think about what's stopping you from being physically active or exercising, you can probably find an alternative solution.

Prepare for setbacks. Give yourself credit for every step in the right direction, no matter how small. If you skip exercise one day, that doesn't mean you can't maintain an exercise routine and might as well quit. Just try again the next day.

Stick with it. Remember, as long as you’re moving forward, your doing more than someone sitting on the couch!

Dare to be great!

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