Studies have shown that almost all exercise, whether it's walking, yoga, or even gardening, decreases depression and boosts self-esteem. "Although most studies tend to look at the effects of exercise over longer periods (12 weeks or longer), patients often report feeling more energetic and having better sleep early on in an exercise program," says Janelle W. Coughlin, Ph.D., Assistant Professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. "Often times, they feel a boost in confidence and motivation, as well."
How does it work? Physiologically, exercise increases blood circulation to the brain and influences your body's response to stress, says Dr. Coughlin. But exercise also delivers a one-two punch of benefits from an emotional perspective. "People may feel better when they exercise, because it's distracting, because they are engaging in social interactions, because they are developing self-confidence, or because they feel like they are managing their health," she says.