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The Connection Between Movement and Mood

Written By: Brittany Breton, MSW Intern, SRMP & Magnolia Heaton, LCSW, SRMT Edited By: Magnolia Heaton, LCSW, SRMT Hello All!

This week we have been reflecting on the connection between movement and mood. Most of us know that physical exercise can improve our physical health- but did you know it can also make a significant difference in our mental health? Research has shown that in addition to improving our physical health, movement can markedly reduce stress levels, improve our brain function, and improve our overall mood. These benefits can be seen after just one session of physical activity.

In general, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) suggests that adults need 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderately intense exercise each week to support overall wellness These 150 minutes of exercise should be split into multiple sessions. For example, you could do 30-minute movement sessions five times a week, or 21-22 minute sessions seven times a week. It all depends on what will work best for you!

Even with splitting these 150 minutes into multiple sessions, sometimes it can seem difficult to achieve the full 150 minutes a week if you’re just starting to integrate movement into your weekly routine and you’re not used to being active. If you’re intimidated by the thought of committing to 150 minutes of exercise a week right off the bat, remember that it’s okay to start slowly. As mentioned previously, even small bouts of moderately intense activity can start to improve your mental health. If you need to take things slowly and start off with less than 150 minutes of exercise per week, then just start where you can! You can still reap the benefits of being more active after just one session of movement. There are many benefits of movement and mental health. As they say, the body is a system and all the systems impact each other. As such, mental health is overall health! For example, movement supporting mental health can include (but not limited to):

  • stimulate blood flow and energize us

  • support lymphatic drainage (removing toxins from our bodies), supporting liver health and overall organ health

  • help us build mindfulness (e.g. help us pay attention to our bodies)

  • help us connect with our breath (deep breathing supports lymphatic functioning, cardiovascular health, brain health; can help our nervous system calm down and combat the stress response)

So what kind of movement helps support our mood? Typically, when people think about physical activity and exercise, they think of intense exercises like running or weight training for long periods of time (research is now actually showing us that this can be counterproductive in some cases, as it can raise cortisol levels, rather than drop them; causing weight retention, inflammation, hormonal imbalance, and a slew of other factors). While these intensive activities can be great for our mental health, there are less intense activities we can do that can also make a significant difference in our mood and overall mental health. Movement for mood can include a lot of different moderately intense activities! Some of these include (but are not limited to):

  • Walking

  • Dancing

  • Yoga

  • Swimming

  • Playing sports

  • Biking

While we all have differing levels of ability, there are exercises that the majority of us can participate in. If you aren’t sure what kind of movement would be appropriate for your level of ability, talk to your doctor or medical health provider to explore options that would be best for you. If you feel like the thought of moving more to improve your mood is overwhelming, or if you feel like you lack the motivation you need to move for your mood, connect with a mental health provider to explore options that can help you ease movement into your routines.

Much Love,

Brittany <3

MSW Intern


Basso, J. C., & Suzuki, W. A. (2017). The Effects of acute exercise on mood, cognition, neurophysiology, and neurochemical Pathways: A Review. Brain Plasticity (Amsterdam, Netherlands), 2(2), 127–152.

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