Exercise and Mental Health: Anne’s Story

There is an increasing body of evidence that people who exercise regularly are mentally and emotionally healthier and have a reduced risk of mental illness. Exercise reduces stress, helps alleviate depression and anxiety, and sometimes is just as effective as medication – with the added benefit of improved physical health. With that in mind, AMI-Québec invites you to share your stories of how physical activity has affected your mental health and emotional well-being. We launch our series with this reflection from AMI’s past-president, kinesiologist Anne Newman.


Let me start at the beginning. I was the youngest of six children, raised in a difficult home situation where things were chaotic and at times felt unsafe. My siblings looked out for me, but they were also struggling to cope. As a teenager in high school, I discovered team sports. It felt good to be part of a group of peers working together toward the same goal: run to first base, run up and down the basketball court, run after the ball on the field hockey pitch. I never wanted practices or games to end. I was passionate about and dedicated to sports.

By the time I was 16, two of my brothers had cut themselves off from the family, a third brother had attempted suicide, and the brother closest to me had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. I knew I was lucky that it wasn’t me in their place and I knew how easily it could have been. I knew mental health was fragile and precious and that I needed to keep moving forward. Although I didn’t know how, I knew I needed to take good care of my mental health.

It was only years later that I realized physical activity has always been key to that goal.

I have studied and worked at many things, and as much as I enjoyed using other skills, I always felt most in my element when I was able to be physically active every day. If my job did not require much physical activity, I would go for long walks, work out at the gym, and help family and friends do physical work around their homes. These days, I work as a kinesiologist at the Cummings Centre, helping people with progressive neuromuscular disorders, mobility issues, or other health challenges stay active and improve their physical and mental health. In my free time, I play Pickleball and love going for walks with friends. I try to incorporate a walk into my visits with my brother who is living with schizophrenia because I know it is also good for him, and I take that as a serious part of my caregiving role.

There have been times when I really didn’t feel like going for a planned walk with a friend or family member and had to force myself, but not once did I regret having made that plan. I always felt better for having gone on that walk.

Now that I have studied the science of exercise and I work in the field, I have a good understanding of the physiology of exercise and the biological effects on the brain, mood and mental health. I know it is imperative to my well-being to stay physically active for life.

I am so inspired by the seniors doing post-rehabilitative exercise at the Cummings Centre who continue to move in spite of their advanced age, physical challenges, and other obstacles life has placed in their paths. Seeing people well into their 90s who make exercise a priority and maintain different levels of independence and vitality because of it, I know it is possible for me to be physically active in one form or another for the rest of my life. I am confident everyone can find ways to be physically active and gain the benefits for their mental health.

Many people ask me, “What’s the best exercise?” My answer is: “The best exercise is the one that you will do consistently.”  Keep looking until you find some physical activity that you really enjoy!

–Anne Newman

From Share&Care Summer 2024