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On Our Minds is the name of KERA's mental health news initiative. The station began focusing on the issue in 2013, after the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Coverage is funded in part by the Donna Wilhelm Family Fund and Cigna.

How Exercise Can Contribute To A Healthy State Of Mind

Flexibility exercises like yoga can contribute to mental well-being.

Exercise can play an important role in maintaining physical health. But it also can contribute to your mental well-being. 

Margaret Bryant with Parkland Hospital System likens using exercise for mental fitness to a prescription for a specific medical problem.

“So when we think about exercise,” she said, “we’re going to prescribe it in a way to target certain muscle groups or target certain functions or things that aren’t functioning well.”

Bryant says breathing exercises and meditation can be good ways to start and “get your mind in the right place.” Larger movements like walking, a certain sport or exercises for better flexibility can release hormones the provide a sense of well-being.

The important thing is to choose a form of exercise you enjoy.

"When exercise is done on a regular basis," Bryant said, "and it’s done with the mind in a good state, then you can start to reap the benefits."

Interview Highlights

On helping with depression: Exercise can help depression by first getting in a mindful awareness. Being able to go internally and focus your breathing is a good start. You can then start to progress maybe even a little meditation and get your mind in the right place. Then you’re going to be more apt to now get out and do larger movements like walking or maybe a certain sport.

How much exercise: When we have a regular exercise program going — at a minimum of three times a week for about 30 minutes of moderate level activity – you will be able to avoid some of the mental downfalls leading to depression. As soon as you get you blood flowing, the brain will release endorphins, a type of hormone that gives you a “feel-good” and a sense of well-being.

What counts as exercise: I have emphasized, say for a person who’s just been released from the hospital, your daily exercise is going through your daily activities. That means get out of bed, put your clothes on, get to the bathroom and take care of yourself, make a meal. All of that activity is exercise, it is movement. And as you recover, you can start to get exercise outside, if that’s going to be available.

Other forms of exercise: Flexibility exercises. Yoga, tai-chi, stretching. As an individual continues to be consistent on any of those flexibility exercises, then we start to enjoy life better and reap the benefits for our mental health.


Interview responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.