6 Ways to Move Your Body That Don’t Feel Like Exercise


One of the most frequently given pieces of advice for managing your mental health is to engage in regular movement. Unfortunately, movement and exercise can be a tricky subject for a lot of people. Many of us have heard that it’s important to make physical movement a part of your regular routine, but it can be easier said than done. Some people seem to have the natural ability to make it to the gym when they say they’ll go, but that’s not the case for everyone. Mental health conditions like depression and anxiety can throw a wrench in even the most well-meaning plans. When you’re depressed or overcome with anxiety, you might not feel like you can even get out of bed, let alone to the gym. However, exercise and movement really are beneficial for mental health, so it can be helpful to sneak in movement in other ways. 


Go a little deeper and ask yourself why you’re committed to moving your body. Are you moving your body to change how it looks? Are you moving your body to punish yourself for eating “too much”? Are you moving your body because it feels good to stretch your muscles and be active? Are you moving your body because it makes you feel more centered and less anxious? Moving your body can be an accessible way to manage your mood, so it can be valuable for folks who deal with anxiety and depression. There are a number of reasons why people choose to move their bodies, and there are even more ways you can choose to move. Movement doesn’t have to equal grueling exercise. Movement can be a tool in your toolbox that you can use to support mental health. 


It can also be helpful to remind yourself how you feel when you’re done moving your body. Do you feel less numb? More in tune with the present moment? Happy? Tired? Try keeping a note on your phone where you track your emotions afterward. You don’t need to focus on how you feel physically (although you certainly can!) but try to keep track of how you feel when you’re done moving for those days when it’s hard to motivate yourself to move. 


Here are some ideas for ways to move your body that don’t feel like exercise:

  1. Clean your house
         a. If you’re looking for a sneaky way to move your body without having it feel too much like exercise, cleaning can be a good way to start. Cleaning is hard work! It can also be a great time to put on some headphones and let your body get to work. Play some music to help you get inspired to move around. Remember, just because you’re not on a machine that spits out how many calories you burned at the end of your workout doesn’t mean that moving around isn’t good for you
  2. Dance around.
         a. Do you have a good-mood playlist? If not, try to find or make one that has songs that make you feel like dancing. Dancing can be a great way to move around, work through your feelings in a physical way, and have fun at the same time. You don’t have to do it for a certain amount of time-  just press play and see when you feel like stopping. When you make movement about fun and self-care instead of just another thing on the to-do list, it can be a lot less depressing.
  3. Get in the garden.
         a. If you’re able to get outside and garden, that can be a great way to engage in physical activity! Gardening can help you not only get moving but get into nature, which can be a soothing experience in itself. If you’re not able to get outside, try keeping some plants inside! Some people have luck with succulent plants if they don’t have a green thumb, so start there if you’ve never kept plants before.
  4.  Play with a pet.
         a. Imagine how happy your pup would be if you spent workout time throwing a ball around for them or taking them for a walk! Having animals around can be really comforting emotionally, and it can also be a great excuse to get outside. If you have a dog or even access to a dog, take them for a walk or play fetch. Explore a nearby park or hiking trail, or just play tug of war on your living room floor. Taking a pet outside can be a great excuse to leave the house every day, especially if you’re isolating due to the pandemic.
  5.  Play with your child.
         a. Kids have so much energy, and they live for playtime. When was the last time you ran around a playground with your child? See what kind of games your child likes to play and have them teach you. Or maybe play catch in the yard or spend some time on a swing set. You can play hide and seek inside, or even combine a couple of these ideas and have a dance party with your kid. Whatever feels good to you!
  6. Go for a hike.
         a. Spending time in nature can be a wonderfully healing experience. Hiking is a physical activity, but it also lets you see the natural beauty of the area around you and to explore new things. You don’t have to have any special skills to hike, just a pair of shoes and a trail. You can go at whatever pace you wish, and listen to your body for when it’s time to call it a day. 

Movement can be complicated, especially when you’re dealing with depression or anxiety. Remember to listen to your body for signs you need a break or that you’re in pain. You can use movement as a gift to yourself and your mental health. For more on how to support your mental health, read our blog.

-Lindsay N Sanner, LSCSW, RPT