3 people on a hike through a forest. One jumps for joy.

Why We Move for Mental Health

Isabel OngBlog, Compilation Post, Self Care, Wellbeing

What comes to mind when you think of the phrase “joyful movement?” For the Sanctuary team, this encapsulates a diverse range of activities, from gardening and walking the dog to canoeing and salsa dancing. 

The connection between movement and mental health is well-recognized. Studies have shown that our minds and our bodies are intimately connected, and that physical activity improves our sense of wellbeing.1 At the same time, it is important to be aware that the relationship with exercise may be complicated for some. This is why Move For Mental Health, a campaign Sanctuary is organizing from June 25 to 26, advocates joyful movement—moving that promotes the wellbeing of your mind, body, and soul.

Here, the team reflects on how movement has contributed to our mental health and wellbeing. We share our favourite ways of moving for mental health, the goals we’ve set for the campaign, our experience last year, and why participating in other ways might be best for some of us.

As you peruse our stories and experiences below, we hope that they will encourage you to participate in any form of movement that makes you feel good and brings you joy.


Exercising and moving my body has a profound impact on my mental health. When I’m feeling low, I do a mental checklist: Have I exercised lately? Have I been outside? Have I been eating and sleeping well? Typically exercising is one of the first things I try and it makes a huge difference in my mental health! During last year’s Move for Mental Health campaign, I had a goal to record one hour of joyful minutes of movement. For me, that included gardening, walking, hiking, yoga, and strength training.


Movement is reorienting and helps me get out of my head and connect with my body. Whether it’s going for a hike in the forest with a friend or working out in the gym on a rainy day, I always feel more like my true self when I am moving. Living with bipolar disorder, I’ve noticed a significant improvement in moods and resiliency through a variety of regular forms of movement. My favorite types of movement involve being active in nature: hiking, running, x-country skiing, and canoeing.


With a little toddler around, I’ve re-discovered the joy of playing with bubbles. If I’ve been with my son at home—especially if I’ve been trying to reason with a 19-month-old without much success—going outside and making bubbles always seems to improve my mood almost instantaneously, whether my son is interested in it or not. I find the fluid, steady movement that I need to make to create the bubbles to be calming, relaxing, and de-stressing. It’s also just fun, playful, and gives me lots of joy.


While exercise can support mental health, an unhealthy relationship with exercise can do the opposite. For me, discovering joyful movement has been a gift. Joyful movement is an approach to exercise that encourages body awareness and doing what feels good in your unique body. When I exercise, I focus on the pleasure of being an embodied self—rather than the number of minutes or miles I’ve run. When I can fully engage in exercise with this mindset, I feel the same way I felt in ballet class as a child: free, powerful, and whole. As you move for mental health, I hope you will also find joy in movement—no matter how many minutes you log!


Move for Mental Health is a fundraiser being held from June 25 to 26. Throughout that weekend, our goal is to record 10,000 joyful minutes of movement to raise $100,000 to reach 1,000,000 people with resources for mental health and wellbeing by 2025. By supporting this campaign, you’ll help raise awareness and reduce stigma surrounding mental health. All funds raised will be in support of Sanctuary Mental Health Ministries. This is an event inclusive of all bodies and abilities, and we celebrate all kinds of movement. Register or give today!


Movement has always been an important part of my life. I like to try a variety of activities to keep things interesting. My favourites include dance, skiing, weightlifting, hiking, and cycling. Before indoor classes were shut down, I really enjoyed taking salsa classes with my husband. When that was no longer an option, I started sporadically following online dance classes at home. However, once I started working from home full-time, I realized that getting out of the house daily and moving in some way improves my mood and overall wellbeing. So I’ve become more passionate about lifting regularly as it gives me a sense of accomplishment when I reach my goals. I’m also learning to play tennis and excited to hike/bike more often as it warms up. My goal during Move for Mental Health as captain of Team We Like to Move it, Move it is to enjoy movement in its many forms, without putting too much pressure on myself.


I feel very lucky to live in Vancouver, which is basically a big playground for outdoor activities. I love hiking, mountain biking, and taking my dog Beezy to the beach. Being active hasn’t always been easy for me, though. In middle school and high school, I was involved in soccer and other sports which pushed me to my limits physically. I had a lot of incidents where I found I couldn’t breathe and was blacking out while exercising. Eventually I was diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma, which means that my body is only capable of certain levels or types of activities. I had to learn to live with these limits and accept that I wouldn’t be able to compete at the same level as my peers. When I exercise now, I focus on listening to my body and letting it tell me what it can and can’t do. I know I will never be a fast runner, but I can still enjoy running, jogging, and walking as my body requires. Knowing my own limits gives me a real sense of autonomy. I’m not comparing myself to anyone else—I’m just focusing on what’s right for me. And that makes me free to move joyfully. 

In support of Move for Mental Health, I’ve invited my family and friends to join Beezy’s Fan Club to donate and log their minutes of joyful movement.


The biggest impact that movement has had on my mental health and wellbeing is that it helps me to remember that I am human. When I feel stressed or overwhelmed, I often find myself neglecting or dismissing my body’s needs. Movement of any sort, whether it’s a short stretch break or a round of tennis, reminds me to breathe, slow down, and pay attention to my body. Joyful movement, in particular, is something I hope to be more intentional in practicing. Dancing to a favourite song (when no one’s watching), going on quiet, reflective walks along the beach, and gliding through powder-soft snow on a snowboard are all forms of movement that bring me joy. During Move For Mental Health last year, my team shalom-seekers raised support for Sanctuary through hiking, cycling, kayaking, and more.


Physical exercise is a passion of mine. Until a traumatic shoulder injury five years ago, I would regularly lift weights and found that this was an important discipline for my overall sense of wellbeing. When I initially injured my shoulder, it took me about twelve months before I realised what a detrimental effect it was having on my sense of wellbeing. Today my shoulder is vastly improved and I am able to do many of the things that I could only do before the injury, but it may never be perfect. Through this physical trauma I am learning that recovery often takes a frustratingly long time, and that pursuing flourishing mental health is a holistic endeavour.

Since COVID-19 restrictions, I have focussed my joyful movement on walking in the beautiful Pacific Spirit Park, with occasional running as an intuitive practice. I also throw in a kettlebell HIIT workout at home once or twice a week, just to get my heart rate up. For Move for Mental Health, my team of International All Stars are planning an eclectic range of physical activities; for me it will largely look like hiking, running, weight training, and some stretching!


I trained intensively to be a professional dancer throughout middle school and high school, and this led to an unhealthy relationship with food and exercise. It has taken me many years to heal and find new, healthy rhythms. For me, recovery means not putting pressure on myself to exercise in certain ways, or for certain amounts of time. It means recognizing that sometimes, not moving is the way to move for mental health. During the weekend, I plan on celebrating the movement of my coworkers while holding space for my own story—and for those with similar stories.


My activity is motivated by the positive impact it has on both my physical and mental health, such as increasing my ability to persevere when things are tough, feeling proud of myself for achieving goals, growing stronger, finding joy and thankfulness for the body I have, and experiencing awe.

During last year’s Move for Mental Health, I jumped into the ocean every day–a tougher challenge than you think when I remind you it was the beginning of winter in Australia where I did the campaign! But whatever the weather, the ocean is my favourite place to be and is always good for my physical and mental health. There is a constant feeling of awe every time I see and experience the ocean. It makes my challenges feel smaller, demands playfulness, rejuvenates and wakes me up with its fresh temperatures, and almost always draws a prayer of thanks from my lips to the One who created it.


One of the ways that I love to move for my mental health is kickboxing! I attend a gym that has a circuit that includes kickboxing, boxing, and core exercises. I find that this form of movement can be a great distraction from what may be going on in my life or in my mind, and is also a great way to release any emotional energy. It can also be very empowering as well! With this campaign, I hope to continue to spread awareness about mental health and illness.

[1] https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/how-simply-moving-benefits-your-mental-health-201603289350

Cover photo by photo-nic.co.uk nic on Unsplash