|Running usually puts a smile on my face|
I have been diagnosed with both bipolar and generalized anxiety disorder. While I will most likely be on medication for bipolar for the rest of my life, there's a good chance I will be able stay off medication for my generalized anxiety disorder--a big positive considering the side effects of anxiety medications, one of which is a rebound effect that leads to even more anxiety.
Why will I be ale to stay off medication? Exercise. Studies have shown that exercise is as effective as medication in treating mild depression and anxiety. While this may not be true for all people, even if exercise is not effective in managing and preventing anxiety and depression, one will still reap the physical benefits of exercise. Read more in "Exercise and stress: Get moving to manage stress" from the Mayo Clinic.
So what's the key to using exercise to mitigate or prevent anxiety and depression? The first thing I'd suggest is setting some goals. A simple goal could be to exercise at least 20 minutes five times a week. Or, if you're feeling more motivated, 20 minutes every day. I'd suggest 20 minutes as the minimum, especially for cardiovascular benefits, but you could certainly do more or less (check out some shorter workouts here and here).
What works best for me is signing up for a race. Once I have a race on my schedule, I write myself at training plan, and that seems to work best for getting myself motivated.
The next step in using exercise to improve your mental health is making exercise work for your schedule. Take some time to look at your schedule and consider what you could cut out to make room for exercise. I would suggest cutting out some T.V. watching, surfing the internet, or other sedentary activity.
Once you've picked something to cut out, the final step in your exercise regiment is consistency. For some people, it works best to have a set time for exercise. I will say it's often harder to motivate yourself to exercise after work, but early mornings are also hard for some people as well. Even if you can't exercise at the same time every day, you could try to set up a weekly routine--something as simple as saying you're going to exercise certain days of the week.
So, to sum up, set a goal, make time to achieve that goal, and make exercise a part of your routine.