Physical Activity for Mental Health While Staying Home

While we know that physical activity is important for the health of your body, did you know that National Fitness Day and Mental Health Awareness month go hand-in-hand? While certainly not a ‘cure’ for all mental health issues, exercise has been proven to help improve symptoms of depression and anxiety. Reduction in these symptoms can increase your quality of life any time, but especially during major life changes, like the current days of social distancing and work-from-home requirements. How does exercise help improve your mental health?

Exercise improves sleep, which is a critically important factor in many aspects of your health including your mental health. Physical activity is also one of the healthiest ways to reduce stress, which can contribute to feelings of anxiety and depression. Exercise releases endorphins and serotonin, both of which contribute to a sense of well-being. Moving your body also increases blood flow to the entire body, including your brain, which promotes clear thinking through oxygenation and supports neuron growth and connections. 

Exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function.

Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry, 2006

Science is also just starting to understand that exercise also increases the size of the hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for memory, learning, and regulation of emotions. There is even evidence that some anti-depressants previously thought to work through increasing serotonin, are actually increasing the creation of neurons in the hippocampus.  

Now that we know why exercise is important, it’s easy to see why working it into your daily life especially during times of turmoil is even more important. Here are some ideas for how to stay active when you can’t go to the gym:

cartoon man walking dog

Stay 6 feet from other people; grab the sunscreen and:

  • walk the dog, 
  • bike with your kids,
  •  roller skate, 
  • do yoga in your yard or on your patio, 
  • wash your car, 
  • weed your garden, 
  • or plant some flowers.

Find some way to get fresh air and sunshine. Vitamin D from sunshine helps boost both your mood and your immune system, in addition to the benefits you’ll gain from the exercise.


If you are cleaning your house, loading the dishwasher, cooking, or even cleaning out your closet, turn on some music and have a solo, impromptu dance party. If you are home with your family, they just may want to join in on the fun. Dancing helps get your heart rate up, and if you are self-conscious about your dance moves, you can take this opportunity to practice where no one can see you!

Dance Party


Yoga Virtual


While exercise videos are not new, many businesses are now offering group exercise classes of all varieties in an online at-home format. Some are even offering free classes. This is a great opportunity to try a certain class format in the comfort of your home. Yoga, barre, dance, HIIT, and mat pilates all lend themselves to being done at home while you follow along with an online instructor. It may even produce a habit you want to continue in group classes later. 


There are a plethora of monthly challenge exercise activities floating around the Internet – examples include push-up challenge, squat challenge. They all start with an achievable number and slowly increase each day for 30 days. Challenge your friends or family members to do one with you. You can even use video conferencing to complete your daily challenges together. 

Friendly Challenge


Sports Drills

Just because your team can’t get together to practice or play doesn’t mean you can’t break out the sports equipment and drill. Practice your footwork, dribble around your yard (soccer) or in your driveway/down the street (basketball), practice your toss for your serve (tennis and volleyball), etc. If ways to practice your fundamentals don’t come immediately to mind, a quick Google search will likely help you find ways to improve your skills on your own. 

These are just a few ideas to get you moving while you’re stuck at the house. Use this opportunity to build healthy habits that will continue to improve your health, both mentally and physically.