Mental Health Month: Get moving to improve mental health

Published 5:33 pm Friday, May 31, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By Bobbie Curd

McDowell Wellness Center in Danville has led the Get Moving Challenge for a decade now. And the organizer of the challenge says it’s easy to see – physical activity definitely has a positive effect on mental health. 

“And the endorphins affect the feel-good chemicals in your brain,” which can lead to better sleep, better confidence, better everything, says Janet Fluty. She’s the center’s dietician and health coach, and the coordinator of the challenge for 10 straight years. 

Email newsletter signup

“Everyone talks about how they feel better when they’re exercising, but many will stop when they don’t get the weight loss they want – even though they feel better,” she says. And the free, six-week-long challenge is a way to invite people to reunite with physical activity, with a focus on improving overall health. 

Dee Minor, director of McDowell Wellness Center, says they used this year’s challenge to kick off the observance of Mental Health Month. 

“For us here at the Wellness Center, with our counselors and instructors … exercise is really one component of a multi-prong health approach. But they’re all tied in together,” Minor says. “Physical health improves mental health – it’s been shown to do it chemically. We talk to members about all of it – the physical, social aspect, the whole person.” 

Many of their senior members come to the center to get out of the house and be around other people. Minor says activities are kind of a side-effect, “but they feel better when they do activities – emotionally, all the way around.” 

Fluty says there are also positives to disconnecting for a while. “Unplugging, other than maybe some music while you’re working out. You forget about your worries, zone out and it really will help you feel better.” 

She says maintaining a healthy activity level also helps aid in sleep, which is a huge factor in mental health. “In addition, physical activity is also good for overall brain health … with an increased production of brain-derived neurotrophic hormones …” 

Fluty says these hormones are what help build new brain cells. “Exercise is huge on keeping your brain healthy as you age – just huge.” She recently finished a book called “Keep Sharp: Build a Better Brain at Any Age,” by Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and found it to be eye-opening. 

“Exercise is really the biggest thing to do for a healthy brain as you age, which all equates to mental wellness,” Fluty says. 

According to the National Library of Medicine, a federal center for biotechnology information, there’s an increasing amount of evidence showing the beneficial impacts of physical activity on mental health. Evaluations show better outcomes for mental diseases, and numerous benefits to psychological effects with physical activity – like self-esteem, cognitive function, mood, depression and quality of life. 

Minor says much of what they do at McDowell Wellness Center focuses on functional fitness – staying strong and keeping that ability to do what you want to do physically. 

For anyone wanting to check their own activity levels, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends adults get at least 150 minutes of physical activity at a moderate intensity each week. This can be spread throughout the week, and includes activities like brisk walking. 

The CDC also says adults should get two days of muscle strengthening activity each week, which can also lead to better bone health. 

And for those looking for pointers that suit their specific needs, Fluty says she uses Ace Fitness (, which is a nonprofit organization and physical activity advocate that “seeks to get people moving worldwide.” 

And the Get Moving Challenge seems to be getting people moving locally. Fluty says around 625 participants signed up this year, with emails going out to 2,200. 

Participants track their minutes of physical activity and submit them weekly, with weekly prizes and a grand-prize awarded at the end. The challenge began April 28 with a big kick-off event at Millennium Park and will end in June. 

Many join the challenge as a team, which can also lead to healthy interactions with work-out buddies who can motivate each other. 

“I tell them if they didn’t sign up, they can still participate …” through the emailer, Fluty says, since a new topic is discussed each week. 

This time around, all the topics surround mental health. “This week’s was food and mental health, next week’s is exercise, there will be one on connecting with others …” Fluty says. 

Minor says participants get free Get Moving T-shirts when they complete the challenge and after 10 years, she sees them everywhere. “In all sorts of colors, all over the place. I’ve seen Get Moving T-shirts everywhere …” she says, and that she loves it.