Take the Resilience Quiz

Joy Lab and Natural Mental Health are community-supported. When you buy through the links below, we may earn a commission. That support helps keeps the Joy Lab podcast free for all!

Move Your Body for Better Mental Health | image shows person jumping outside

Move Your Body for Better Mental Health

movement/exercise Jan 23, 2020

Resilient Movement Plans

You may find yourself saying one of the following statements:

  • "I know that I should exercise, but I just don't have time."
  • "Running on a treadmill is so boring."
  • "I can't afford a gym membership."
  • "I just can't seem to stick to a regular exercise routine."

Does this sound like you? If you find yourself saying any of the statements above, you're not alone. Many people struggle to exercise regularly, even though they know it will improve their physical health. The fact is, scientific research has shown again and again that moving our bodies more frequently has a significant positive impact on our mental health as well. Regular movement can: 

  • Effectively treat depression1
  • Normalize cortisol levels
  • Protect against oxidation
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Normalize blood sugar
  • Improve learning ability2
  • Promote the survival of new brain cells3
  • Help you grow a bigger, healthier, better-connected brain4

Focus on movement, not exercise.

Good news! You don't have to run a marathon or even go to the gym to access these many benefits. Remember, just a few generations ago, most Americans made their living through some kind of physical activity. They spent more time outdoors, got plenty of sun and fresh air, were more attuned to the seasons—and they moved their bodies for several hours per day as part of their routine, not as something extra. Human beings have evolved to move regularly throughout the day. So, it makes sense to think of movement more broadly than just “exercise.” This can also make it easier for us to build it into our lives naturally.

Before you begin.

Check with your physician regarding how to start and how quickly to increase your activity levels, especially if you have any of the following: a known heart condition, chest discomfort with or without physical exertion, loss of balance due to dizziness, loss of consciousness, joint problems, medication for high blood pressure or heart problems, or any other reason you should not do physical activity.5

Resilient movement plans.

In order to help you find a movement routine that works for you, we have created three resilient movement plans: the Basic Movement Plan, the Even Better Movement Plan, and the Ideal Movement Plan. Scroll to the bottom of this page to learn more about the plans and determine which one is right for you.

Final reminders.

It is possible to do any movement with greater awareness and presence. Incorporating mindfulness into any of our recommended activities, even the more vigorous movements, will help you get the most out of the movement you've chosen.

Ultimately, movement should be fun. The best way to ensure that you will stick with a movement routine is to keep it fresh and do many different things that you enjoy. Keep it light and playful. Move with others whenever you can. And when in doubt, just move!

Choose Your Resilient Movement Plan

Review the three plans below to determine which is the best fit for you. We recognize that different people will begin at different levels of fitness and have different schedules, commitments, and restrictions. Feel free to switch plans at any time, either adding movement as your fitness level increases, or moving to a simpler plan due to schedule or health restrictions. The key is to keep moving!

The Basic Movement Plan.

Download here

The Basic Idea | Take a short daily walk and breathe deeply through your nose. Set aside 20 minutes or just make it part of your regular daily activities. Use the tips below during your walk.

Tip 1: Enjoy | Try not to see your walk as “exercise," or even as a means of getting from one place to another.  Just walk for the pleasure of walking.

Tip 2: See the Sun | If possible, go outdoors, preferably in a natural setting.

Tip 3: Notice | Try to notice as much as you can about your experience: the movement of your body, your breathing, and all of your senses.

Tip 4: Mix it Up | Vary your pace, noticing how different it feels to stroll leisurely or to quicken to a more vigorous pace.

Tip 5: Breathe | Keep breathing deeply in and out through your nose as you vary your pace. See if you can keep the breath long and slow through the nose, even as you move more quickly.

Tip 6: Be Present | Remember, you have nowhere to go and nothing to do but to be fully where you are. You are simply enjoying movement for its own sake.

The Even Better Movement Plan

Download here

The Basic Idea | If you can do a little bit more movement to benefit your mental health, or if you've started with the Basic Movement Plan and feel ready to add more, the Even Better Movement Plan is for you.

Tip 1: Focus | Pay attention as you move. Whether planned or unplanned, notice how you feel. Remember to keep your focus curious and kind. Try to notice rather than judge so you can stay motivated as you move.

Tip 2: Move More Naturally

  • Stand up at least 30 times per day (ideally every 15-20 minutes). Set a timer on your phone or computer to help remind you.
  • If you sit at work, organize your space so that you have to get up for common tasks. You can organize your home in a similar way (e.g., tuck the TV remote in a junk drawer!).
  • Before you sit back down, do a couple of slow squats and take three deep breaths in and out.
Tip 3: Walk With Bursts | Walk for 30 minutes, 5 days per week. Several times during each walk, add a burst. Do this by picking up the pace for just a minute or so, then slowing back down again. Repeat a few more times throughout your walk.
Tip 4: Move Weights | Keep yourself strong with resistance training and build strength by adding more resistance over time. Do this sort of weight-bearing activity at least once a week.
You can do this in several ways: yoga, resistance bands, weight machines, free weights, or using your own body weight. Even some gardening chores count as resistance training if they involve things like lifting, digging, or hauling.


The Ideal Movement Plan

Download here

The Basic Idea | If you're ready to create an ideal movement routine to benefit your mental health, or if you started with the Even Better Movement Plan and want more, the Ideal Movement Plan is for you. Here's how to do it.

Tip 1: Move More

  • Stand up every 15-20 minutes during the day.
  • Incorporate a variety of non-structured exercise movements throughout each day. Be creative and have fun

Tip 2: Get Aerobic

  • Walk for 30-45 minutes, 3-4 days per week. Or bike, ski, row, or do other similar activities at a light to moderate pace.
  • Twice per week, add 10-15 minutes of high-intensity interval training (HIIT). If you're not sure what HIIT is, learn more about it from this article. The article also offers a beginner-friendly 10-15 minute HIIT workout you can put into your plan.

Tip 3: Connect Mind and Body | Add a mind-body practice like yoga or qigong 2 days per week (for as many minutes as you like). Go to a class or use a home video to guide you. Try this Yin Yoga sequence.

Tip 4: Lift Weights

  • Twice per week, do some form of medium weight-bearing/resistance work (e.g., total body resistance workout, heavy-duty gardening, or light weight-lifting).

  • Once per week, do a slow resistance circuit (weight training) using maximal weights with minimal repetitions (3-6).

Tip 5: Rest | Take one day of rest per week.




High Intensity Interval Training or HIIT for Mental Health

If you’re in fight or flight stress mode, your body is preparing you for brief, intense bursts of activity, followed by periods of recovery. We are wired for this, and as children we did it all the time. Consider adding occasional brief, intense bursts of movement to your weekly routine. This practice has many benefits. Read more.


  1. Mota-Pereira, J., Silverio, J., Carvalho S., Ribeiro, J. C., Fonte, D., & Ramos, J. (2011). Moderate exercise improves depression parameters in treatment-resistant patients with major depressive disorder. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 45(8), 1005-1011. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jpsychires.2011.02.005
  2. Winter, B., Breitenstein, C., Mooren, F. C., Voelker, K., Fobker, M., Lechtermann, A. ... Knecht, S. (2007). High impact running improves learning. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 87, 597–609. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.nlm.2006.11.003
  3. Snyder, J. S., Glover, L. R., Sanzone, K. M., Kamhi, J. F., & Cameron, H. A. (2009). The effects of exercise and stress on the survival and maturation of adult-generated granule cells. Hippocampus, 19(10), 898-906. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/hipo.20552
  4. Vaynman, S., & Gomez-Pinilla, F. (2005). License to run: Exercise impacts functional plasticity in the intact and injured central nervous system by using neurotrophins. Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair, 19(4), 283-295. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1545968305280753
  5. Thomas, S., Reading, J., & Shephard, R. J. (1992). Revision of the Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire (PAR-Q). Canadian Journal of Sport Sciences, 17(4), 338-345.

Resilient Mental Health: Consider Brain Chemistry

May 21, 2024

Resilience Training and Our Roots of Resilience Series

Apr 17, 2024

Resilience and Mental Health

Apr 16, 2024


Discover your Resilience Type with the Resilience Quiz

After completing the quiz, you can get your free tailored mini-course, full of integrative practices and supplement ideas to help you reclaim your most resilient self.

Learn more

Helpful support delivered right to your inbox.

We’ll make your journey to resilience easier. Join our weekly newsletter for integrative tools to help you build on your strengths.

We are spam-free!


This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice and is not a replacement for advice and treatment from a medical professional. Consult your doctor or other qualified health professional before beginning any diet change, supplement, or lifestyle program. See our terms for more information.

If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call the NAMI HelpLine: 1-800-950-6264 available Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m., ET. OR text "HelpLine" to 62640 or email NAMI at [email protected]. Visit NAMI for more. You can also call or text SAMHSA at 988 or chat 988lifeline.org.