9 Mental Health Benefits of Non-Exercise Activity
When you’re struggling with your mental health, exercise is often the last thing on your mind. At least, I know that’s the case for me. I struggle with symptoms of depression, anxiety, and unresolved trauma, and on my bad days, the last thing I want to do is move.
But recently, I’ve found that some movement really can help alleviate my symptoms (a little) if I can convince myself to do it. The truth is, actual exercise is often out of the question for me. So instead, I focus on non-exercise activity.
What Is Non-Exercise Activity?
Non-exercise activity is a way to move your body without exercising. Instead of focusing on strength, agility, or weight loss, non-exercise activity focuses on movement. Stretching, dancing, walking, even rocking gently back and forth are all excellent examples of non-exercise activity.
Best of all, non-exercise activity can be done anywhere.
If you have social anxiety, you don’t have to brave the gym to incorporate some movement into your day. If depression has you struggling to get up in the morning, there are plenty of non-exercise activities you can actually do from the comfort of your bed.
Simply moving your body can be incredibly powerful when trying to cope with mental health struggles. Here’s why:
9 Ways Non-Exercise Activity Can Help Your Mental Health
It promotes physical health.
Our physical and mental health are intertwined, so when one suffers, the other typically does too. But the reverse is also true: if we can improve one, we can often improve the other. By taking care of your physical health, you may notice a slight improvement in your mental health as well. Non-exercise activity can’t cure mental illness, but it can help alleviate symptoms.
It involves less pressure than regular exercise.
When we exercise, there’s a lot of pressure to go all-in. Set a routine, push ourselves, lose weight, get strong, etc. Sometimes, all that pressure makes it hard to actually start. Or it can make us so anxious about our bodies that it ends up doing more harm than good to our mental health. Non-exercise activity is less strenuous and less strict, so it feels more approachable and it’s easier to do on a regular basis without too much anxiety.
We can have fun with it.
Fun is hard to come by when you’re struggling with your mental health, which is why I love non-exercise activity so much. Even when I’m depressed, I can turn on some music, have a dance party, and feel a tiny spark of something. Not fun exactly, but the memory of fun, which gives me a little hope.
It can help us maintain good mental health.
So far I’ve been largely speaking to how non-exercise activity can help alleviate the symptoms of mental illness, but you don’t need to be mentally ill to benefit from non-exercise activity. This type of low-pressure, high-enjoyment movement is good for everyone, even if you’re already in a great mental headspace. Moving your body every day in a gentle way can help you maintain your mental health, even when you’re already in a pretty good place.
It’s a lot like play.
Non-exercise activity mimics play in a lot of ways because there isn’t a specific purpose to it. You’re just moving to move, just like how when you were a kid, you just played to play. Plus, play isn’t just important for kids. People of all ages need to stretch their imagination muscles and play. Imagining what could be can help with personal development, because you can imagine all the incredible ways your life can change. This is also helpful if you’re struggling with your mental health. Being able to imagine a world where you feel better can be a powerful source of hope.
When you’re having a bad mental health day, it hurts. Emotionally, but also sometimes physically. On these days, we need to treat ourselves gently. Non-exercise activity is great for this because it’s all about moving your body, and there are so many gentle ways to do that. Simply stretching in bed is a form of non-exercise activity that many people can do, even when they’re really struggling.
We can change it up based on how we’re feeling.
Unlike strict exercise routines, non-exercise activity is flexible. If we’re feeling really bad one day and all we can muster is a few stretches in our living room, we’re still totally free to have a crazy dance party the next day if we’re feeling better. This flexibility also improves our ability to listen to ourselves and honor our needs as they change from day to day.
It promotes better sleep.
Sleep is a huge part of our mental health. When we can’t sleep, our mental health gets worse, but when our mental health is in a bad place, it’s also usually much harder to sleep. This creates a vicious cycle of not sleeping and feeling terrible. One way to break that cycle is by moving your body. I have personally noticed that when I take the time to engage in non-exercise activity, like a dance party, a walk, or even just taking breaks from work to pace around my house, I always sleep better. I think my body feels more ready for rest if it has engaged in activity during the day.
It helps get us outside.
Non-exercise activity doesn’t have to be done outside, but certain activities, like walks, can get us out of the house and into the open air. A lot of people find nature to be beautiful, inspiring, and comforting, but even if you don’t feel those things, getting out of the house is a change of scenery, and that’s always good for your mental health.
I’m a big fan of non-exercise activity because I think anyone can do it, no matter what kind of mental headspace they’re in. On my worst days, I still find small ways to move my body, and I’m always surprised at how much it can help. It doesn’t always, but knowing that it can, knowing that there are little things that can make me feel a little better, is comforting.