Regular physical activity, including walking, group fitness, cycling, housework and gardening, can boost your mood and benefit brain health, says Peter Clark, a behavioral neuroscientist and researcher at Iowa State University.

“People who are more physically active have less of a stress response during experiences that we would otherwise find adverse, like public speaking or having to meet a tight deadline,” Clark says. ”Over time in more physically active individuals, a lower stress response to adverse experiences makes us more resistant to developing mental health issues, like depression, anxiety and drug dependence.”  

Clark says regular physical activity also improves cognitive functions, including learning, memory and attention.

In older adults, these improvements can be “substantial,” lowering the risk of memory loss and dementia as we age, Clark says.

If you’re too busy to fit in the recommended 150 minutes of physical activity a week, remember any activity is better than none, Clark says.

“If you find the time to walk just 1 mile a week, you will have walked 52 miles more in a year than you would have while doing nothing at all,” Clark says.  

“It’s also about engaging in physical activities that you find rewarding, activities that bring some value and enjoyment to your life and don’t feel like a chore,” he adds. “Not many people truly enjoy pounding on a treadmill or elliptical for 30 mins or more every day. Maybe it’s lawn work or gardening that you enjoy. Maybe it's chasing your kids around more. All of these are forms of physical activity. Even just doing a little every week can add up to a lot every year and becomes quite considerable over a lifetime.”

Return to The Iowa Dish