Health Tips

How Exercise Breaks Can Support Your Mental Health


You spend all day getting stuff done. Between errands, work, and all the other little tasks that clog up your to-do list, when you get home at night, all you really want to do is relax—even though you promised yourself you’d head to the gym.

Sure, you know exercise is important for supporting your overall health, but so are sleep and chill time, so the decision seems to be made for you already: Stay at home on your comfy couch and you’ll hit the gym tomorrow… unless you’re really busy again.

To break out of this cycle, Julia Brown, Nike Well Collective trainer, has some advice—and it involves letting go of this “all-or-nothing” mindset toward exercise. It’s simple: Instead of waiting for when you have a free hour (so, maybe never?) to workout, try taking a few 10-minute exercise breaks to split up your day.

“The all-or-nothing mentality often discourages people from exercising if they can’t commit to a full workout, but short workouts provide a manageable starting point, and we love a good starting point,” Brown says.

Easily fitting into your schedule isn’t the only benefit of exercise breaks, though—they can also support your mental health, according to licensed psychologist Mariel Buqué, PhD.

“Any movement is helpful when it comes to relieving stress,” Dr. Buqué says. “The body doesn’t function well in stagnation, especially if we are perseverating in our thoughts and feeling frozen and stuck in difficult emotions. Even light stretches have been known to increase our capacity to feel emotionally lighter and clear our minds.”

The overall key to exercise breaks is making them easy to execute. That means you want to be dressed and ready to go in clothes that are breathable, versatile, and comfortable enough to wear all day—like the Nike Feel Good Collection, which is made to move with you through whatever your day holds. Grab yourself an on-trend matching set for some extra motivation, and keep reading to learn how exercise breaks can support your mental health.

1. Exercise breaks can help relieve stress

POV: You’re feeling overwhelmed at work and need to take a step back for a second. Automatically, your hand pulls out your phone and next thing you know that “quick break” has turned into a 25-minute doomscrolling sesh.

Instead of reaching for your phone as your default reaction when your mind needs a break, Dr. Buqué recommends spending 10 minutes (you can even set a timer) doing any exercise that involves deep breathing. Tai chi, yoga, and shadowboxing are a few of her favorites, but any exercise that emphasizes breath work can help with stress in the short term and emotional regulation in the long term, she says.

“Movement can actually be a really healthy and proactive stress reliever,” Dr. Buqué says. “When we move our bodies, we increase the body’s endorphins, which are known to have a function in increasing our feelings of well-being. So when we move our bodies, we release stress, but also increase our capacity to feel well.”

2. They make you feel accomplished

When you finish a task, no matter how big or small, it makes you feel good about yourself, right? Turns out that’s not just a you thing—there’s science behind it. When you accomplish a goal, your brain releases dopamine (aptly nicknamed the “reward molecule”) into your body, causing you to feel happy and invigorated.

“For me, completing short workouts or getting any movement at all in my day is a win,” Brown says. “Not only do I feel a sense of accomplishment and a boost in my self-esteem, but endorphins are released, which are natural mood enhancers.” Top off those endorphins with a hit of dopamine, and you’ll really be feeling that exercise-induced mood boost.

3. They can give you an energy boost

Move over afternoon coffee, there’s a new energy boost in town that’s a lot cheaper than that large vanilla latte (read: it’s free). Exercise breaks can also help boost your energy when you’re feeling the 3 p.m. slump settle in.

While you work out, your body produces more mitochondria—the part of your cells that turn things like glucose and oxygen into energy for your body to use. More mitochondria means more energy, and even just a quick burst of movement can kickstart these processes.

As you’re giving your body this cellular support, you’ll in turn be supporting your overall well-being because, as Dr. Buqué notes, it’s all connected. “Our mind and body are one entity, one system,” she says. “The mind and body work in collaboration with one another, and so in order to stay healthy, we have to apply as much attention to our mental health as we do our physical health.”

Want to give an energizing exercise break a try? Brown suggests a bodyweight HIIT circuit. Pick five of your favorite exercises (she recommends starting with squats, push-ups, side lunges, planks, and jumping jacks), and do each one for 30 seconds followed by 30 seconds of rest. Repeat the circuit twice, and then you can go about your day with a little more energy, a little less stress, and a mood-boosting sense of accomplishment.


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