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Persons with Mental Health Conditions

1 in 5 Canadians experience mental illness in a year. The most common type of mental illness are mood and anxiety disorders. Common types of treatment include medication and psychotherapy (talk therapy). For depression, exercise is recommended as a treatment.

Physical Activity and Mental Health

People with mental illness are usually less active than the general population and are at a higher risk for developing medical conditions, such as diabetes. Getting enough physical activity can counteract these risks and help improve the following:

  • Mood
  • Concentration
  • Energy
  • Sleep
  • Reduce stress and feelings of anxiousness

Physical activity can also provide an opportunity to socialise with others.

To see health benefits, the physical activity recommendations are as follows:

  • Aim to work up to a total of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity per week. You can choose any activity that you enjoy (i.e., walking, jogging, cycling, and swimming). Moderate-intensity physical activity may cause a slight increase in your breathing but you’re still able to carry on a conversation. 10 minute bouts of such activity have been shown to be effective.
  • Include 2 sessions of muscle strengthening exercise (i.e., lifting weights) per week.
  • If you are living with depression, aim for 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity (e.g. walking as if hurrying to get on the bus before it leaves) 2-3 times per week. Do this for a minimum of 9 weeks and supervised if possible.

Remember, any movement is better than none. Try to choose activities you enjoy and will continue to do.

Useful Resources

The Exercise and Depression Toolkit (University of British Columbia, Canada)
This toolkit was developed by researchers in partnership with adults who have lived experience with depression, health care providers, and exercise professionals as well as several major organizations who support mental health. It includes a section that can be used in discussion with your health care team. There are also handouts of simple tools that will help you get active (e.g., a mood and activity diary, goal setting, schedule, and motivating statements).

"Psychology Works” Fact Sheet: Physical Activity, Mental Health and Motivation (Canadian Psychological Association, Canada)
A fact sheet providing a summary of the benefits of physical activity for general mental health as well as how to start and stay motivated.

Why exercise is important to your quality of life (Crest.BD Bipolar Wellness Center, Canada)
A brief summary of why exercise is important with specific focus on depression and bipolar disorder and how you can take action.

Physical Activity Counselling Toolkit (University of Alberta, Canada)
Topics K and L of this Toolkit present the benefits and types of physical activity that have a positive impact on anxiety and safety considerations for activity when living with anxiety.

Exercise for stress and anxiety (Anxiety and Depression Association of America, USA)
Basic background information on the importance and effectiveness of exercise for stress and anxiety with some practical tips for how to weave exercise into your day.

The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise (HelpGuide, USA)
Summary of the health benefits of exercise for depression, anxiety, stress, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and trauma. Includes tips of how to overcome mental health obstacles to exercise as well as how to start and keep doing exercise.

Being Active When You Have Depression and Anxiety (Exercise Is Medicine, USA)
This handout presents the benefits of physical activity for persons with depression and/or anxiety, the types of activity that have a positive impact on depression and anxiety, and getting started and staying safe with physical activity.

Last updated: October 2023