Improving Your Mental Health by Getting Active Outside of the Gym

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Improving Your Mental Health by Getting Active Outside of the Gym

We’ve all been told that exercise is good for us. People are motivated to exercise for many different reasons such as losing weight, boosting endurance, and improving cardiovascular fitness. One benefit of exercise that is often overlooked, however, is the positive effect on your mental health. Physical activity reduces anxiety, stress, depression, and negative mood. Physical activity improves your mood, energy-levels, cognitive function, and social interaction. It is recommended to get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise three days a week to achieve these health benefits. These 30 minutes don’t have to be all at once. For example, you could break up the 30 minutes into three 10-minute activities. This can be accomplished quite easily if you have a gym membership, however, many of us would prefer to find physical activity outlets that work better with our lifestyles, abilities, and routines. We can accomplish this by considering the day-to-day activities that are meaningful, important, and enjoyable to us. You are more likely to have success consistently staying active if the exercise relates to these kinds of activities. You may not even realize you’re exercising!

Here are a few examples of ways to fit in physical activity without stepping a foot into the gym that you might enjoy adding to your weekly routine:

Gardening/Landscaping- Commit to a summer garden or update the look of your yard. These are both great ways to get active outdoors.

Playing with Kids- Get yourself and your kids off the technology for a while and fit in some purposeful playtime!

Active Video Games- Games that involve standing up and moving around are a great way to incorporate some extra exercise while having fun indoors.

Local Parks- Check out your local hiking spots, playgrounds, sport courts/fields, walking paths, etc.

Walking the Dog- If you can’t motivate yourself to exercise for your own health, do it for your dog’s!

Building- Building stuff involves lots of bending, picking things up, and maneuvering.

Swimming- Whether it’s at a pool or the beach, swimming is an excellent way to get exercise.

Cleaning/Organizing- Have some chores or projects to get done? Cleaning and organizing around the house are productive ways to sneak in some physical activity.

Biking- Perhaps you might consider biking to and from work if you live within a reasonable distance.

Walking & Talking- Do you commonly chat on the phone? Take that phone on a walk and you’ll get tons of steps in while being distracted on the call. Even better, you can bring along a friend or family member to walk and talk with you.

There are MANY other ways to fit physical activity into your weekly routine and reap the benefits for not only your body, but also your mind. Try to come up with some other ideas that would work best for you.


Check out for additional ideas and resources!



SD DOH (2024). Physical activity archives.



The mission of the Human Services Center is to provide individuals with a mental health or substance use disorder or both with effective, individualized professional treatment enabling them to achieve their highest level of personal independence in the most therapeutic environment.


The mission of the Division of Behavioral Health is to strengthen and support children and adults through community-based substance use disorder and mental health treatment services, crisis and prevention services, recovery support services, and psychiatric hospitalization.  


To read previous editions of the Mental Health Memo visit