One of the most important—and enjoyable—areas that I work on with my clients concerns the effects of exercise on mental health.

My clients are often fascinated to learn that exercise can have the same effect at the neurotransmitter level that antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications have, without the negative side effects, and with a host of positive side effects. (These comments are relevant for low to medium levels of anxiety and depression, not necessarily for severe anxiety and panic, nor for major depression.)

Many of us know that exercise can relieve and process stress and anxiety, and can help give us a better, fresher, more alive feeling. What is not always understood is that when we get our heart rate up regularly, for long enough (generally three to four times a week, for three to four months) then, as we begin to change our body chemistry, we can create a sustained anti-depressant and anti-anxiety effect, even on the days that we don’t exercise.

Along with these changes often come improved sleep, more energy, better concentration, and of course, higher self-esteem.

But sometimes even this knowledge is not enough to get us to exercise. The barriers can be deeper and much more ingrained and complex. We often need more than an intellectual understanding to help get us over the hump.

Therapy can provide a context for understanding and working through barriers to exercise, identifying easy, practical first steps toward exercise, and establishing commitment and accountability.