Keeping active

Regular physical activity is a good way to help prevent or manage mild anxiety and depression. Keeping active can help you stay physically fit and mentally healthy.

Research shows that keeping active can:

  • help lift mood through improved fitness and the release of natural chemicals in the brain
  • help improve sleeping patterns
  • increase energy levels
  • help block negative thoughts and/or distract people from daily worries
  • help people feel less alone if they exercise with others.

Physical activity increases your wellbeing. The current recommendation is at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on most, and preferably all, days of the week.1 However, people with anxiety or depression may find it difficult to get started or get motivated, or continue to exercise on a long-term basis.

Illustration of two people running together outside

Tips to get started

Illustration of a couple working out together

1. Start simple

Increase your activity levels gradually to improve your self-confidence and build motivation for more energetic activities. Start with simple activities such as shopping, driving, gardening or small household tasks.

Illustration of a couple walking their dog

2. Do what is enjoyable

People with anxiety and/or depression often lose interest and pleasure in doing things they once enjoyed. Plan activities with friends or family that are enjoyable, interesting, relaxing or satisfying – with time these activities will become enjoyable again.
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3. Include other people

People with anxiety and/or depression often withdraw from others, but continuing to socialise is an important part of recovery. Staying connected with friends and family helps increase wellbeing, confidence and provides opportunities to socialise.
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4. Make a plan

Planning a routine can help people become more active – make sure some form of exercise is included each day. Try to stick to the plan as closely as possible, but be flexible.

Activity plan

Download the Activity plan template

Examples of activities to include in your routine

Keep fit

  • Go for a walk or bike ride 

  • Do some gardening

  • Go bush walking

  • Go swimming

  • Go to the gym

Entertain yourself

  • Read a book or magazine

  • Write a letter/email

  • Play a solo card game

  • Do a crossword/Sudoku

Pamper yourself

  • Have a bubble bath

  • Buy some flowers

  • Lie on the beach and read a book 

  • Get a massage

Around the house

  • Cook something new

  • Listen to music/the radio

  • Play in the backyard with your children or pets

  • Do some gardening


  • Invite a friend over

  • Visit a neighbour

  • Phone a friend for a chat

  • Take your children/pets to the playground/park 

Away from home

  • Visit a friend

  • Join a club or group

  • Go to a market

  • Visit a museum/art gallery/library

  • Go to a movie

Useful resources when developing an activity plan

  • General practitioners (GPs) can provide advice and information about anxiety, depression and exercise, and provide referrals to exercise physiologists.

  •  Exercise physiologists are qualified health professionals who provide advice about health, fitness and exercise. People with ongoing health conditions can access their services at subsidised rates through Medicare.

  • Many councils offer free or subsidised sport and recreation facilities, such as swimming pools, walking circuits, tennis courts and skating ramps. Check with your local council to see what is available in your area.

  •  Gymnasiums and sports clubs often have a range of classes, such as aerobics and Pilates; equipment such as rowing and walking machines; and some may have swimming pools. Most gyms have instructors who can develop personal fitness plans and help keep you motivated.

  • Community centres or neighbourhood houses host a variety of groups with affordable membership fees. These may include aerobics, yoga, tai chi, dancing and walking groups. You can find these groups through your local council.

1Pate RR, Prat M, Blair SN et al. (1995) Physical activity and public health. A recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Sports Medicine. 

Journal of the American Medical Association, 273(5):402–7. 

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