You already know that exercise is good for your body. But did you know it can also boost your mood, improve your sleep, and help you deal with depression, anxiety, stress, and more?
What are the mental health benefits of exercise?
Exercise is not just about aerobic capacity and muscle size. Sure, exercise can improve your physical health and your physique, trim your waistline, improve your sex life, and even add years to your life. But that’s not what motivates most people to stay active.
People who exercise regularly tend to do so because it gives them an enormous sense of well-being. They feel more energetic throughout the day, sleep better at night, have sharper memories, and feel more relaxed and positive about themselves and their lives. And it’s also a powerful medicine for many common mental health challenges.
Regular exercise can have a profoundly positive impact on depression, anxiety, and ADHD. It also relieves stress, improves memory, helps you sleep better, and boosts your overall mood. And you don’t have to be a fitness fanatic to reap the benefits. Research indicates that modest amounts of exercise can make a real difference. No matter your age or fitness level, you can learn to use exercise as a powerful tool to deal with mental health problems, improve your energy and outlook, and get more out of life.
Exercise and depression
Studies show that exercise can treat mild to moderate depression as effectively as antidepressant medication—but without the side-effects, of course. As one example, a recent study done by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that running for 15 minutes a day or walking for an hour reduces the risk of major depression by 26%. In addition to relieving depression symptoms, research also shows that maintaining an exercise schedule can prevent you from relapsing.
Exercise is a powerful depression fighter for several reasons. Most importantly, it promotes all kinds of changes in the brain, including neural growth, reduced inflammation, and new activity patterns that promote feelings of calm and well-being. It also releases endorphins, powerful chemicals in your brain that energize your spirits and make you feel good. Finally, exercise can also serve as a distraction, allowing you to find some quiet time to break out of the cycle of negative thoughts that feed depression.
Exercise and anxiety
Exercise is a natural and effective anti-anxiety treatment. It relieves tension and stress, boosts physical and mental energy, and enhances well-being through the release of endorphins. Anything that gets you moving can help, but you'll get a bigger benefit if you pay attention instead of zoning out.
Try to notice the sensation of your feet hitting the ground, for example, or the rhythm of your breathing, or the feeling of the wind on your skin. By adding this mindfulness element—really focusing on your body and how it feels as you exercise—you'll not only improve your physical condition faster, but you may also be able to interrupt the flow of constant worries running through your head.
Exercise and stress
Ever noticed how your body feels when you're under stress? Your muscles may be tense, especially in your face, neck, and shoulders, leaving you with back or neck pain, or painful headaches. You may feel a tightness in your chest, a pounding pulse, or muscle cramps. You may also experience problems such as insomnia, heartburn, stomachache, diarrhea, or frequent urination. The worry and discomfort of all these physical symptoms can in turn lead to even more stress, creating a vicious cycle between your mind and body.
Exercising is an effective way to break this cycle. As well as releasing endorphins in the brain, physical activity helps to relax the muscles and relieve tension in the body. Since the body and mind are so closely linked, when your body feels better so, too, will your mind.
Exercise and ADHD
Exercising regularly is one of the easiest and most effective ways to reduce the symptoms of ADHD and improve concentration, motivation, memory, and mood. Physical activity immediately boosts the brain's dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels—all of which affect focus and attention. In this way, exercise works in much the same way as ADHD medications such as Ritalin and Adderall.
Exercise and PTSD and trauma
Evidence suggests that by really focusing on your body and how it feels as you exercise, you can actually help your nervous system become “unstuck” and begin to move out of the immobilization stress response that characterizes PTSD or trauma. Instead of allowing your mind to wander, pay close attention to the physical sensations in your joints and muscles, even your insides as your body moves. Exercises that involve cross movement and that engage both arms and legs—such as walking (especially in sand), running, swimming, weight training, or dancing—are some of your best choices.
Outdoor activities like hiking, sailing, mountain biking, rock climbing, whitewater rafting, and skiing (downhill and cross-country) have also been shown to reduce the symptoms of PTSD.
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Other mental health benefits of exercise
Even if you’re not suffering from a mental health problem, regular physical activity can still offer a welcome boost to your mood, outlook, and mental well-being.
Exercise can help provide:
Sharper memory and thinking. The same endorphins that make you feel better also help you concentrate and feel mentally sharp for tasks at hand. Exercise also stimulates the growth of new brain cells and helps prevent age-related decline.
Higher self-esteem. Regular activity is an investment in your mind, body, and soul. When it becomes habit, it can foster your sense of self-worth and make you feel strong and powerful. You'll feel better about your appearance and, by meeting even small exercise goals, you'll feel a sense of achievement.
Better sleep. Even short bursts of exercise in the morning or afternoon can help regulate your sleep patterns. If you prefer to exercise at night, relaxing exercises such as yoga or gentle stretching can help promote sleep.
More energy. Increasing your heart rate several times a week will give you more get-up-and-go. Start off with just a few minutes of exercise per day, and increase your workout as you feel more energized.
Stronger resilience. When faced with mental or emotional challenges in life, exercise can help you build resilience and cope in a healthy way, instead of resorting to alcohol, drugs, or other negative behaviors that ultimately only make your symptoms worse. Regular exercise can also help boost your immune system and reduce the impact of stress.
Reaping the mental health benefits of exercise is easier than you think
You don’t need to devote hours out of your busy day to train at the gym, sweat buckets, or run mile after monotonous mile to reap all the physical and mental health benefits of exercise. Just 30-minutes of moderate exercise five times a week is enough. And even that can be broken down into two 15-minute or even three 10-minute exercise sessions if that’s easier.
Even a little bit of activity is better than nothing
If you don’t have time for 15 or 30 minutes of exercise, or if your body tells you to take a break after 5 or 10 minutes, for example, that’s okay, too. Start with 5- or 10-minute sessions and slowly increase your time. The more you exercise, the more energy you’ll have, so eventually you’ll feel ready for a little more. The key is to commit to some moderate physical activity—however little—on most days. As exercising becomes a habit, you can slowly add extra minutes or try different types of activities. If you keep at it, the benefits of exercise will begin to pay off.
You don't have to suffer to get results
Research shows that moderate levels of exercise are best for most people. Moderate means:
- That you breathe a little heavier than normal, but are not out of breath. For example, you should be able to chat with your walking partner, but not easily sing a song.
- That your body feels warmer as you move, but not overheated or very sweaty.
Can't find time to exercise during the week? Be a weekend warrior
A recent study in the United Kingdom found that people who squeeze their exercise routines into one or two sessions during the weekend experience almost as many health benefits as those who work out more often. So don't let a busy schedule at work, home, or school be an excuse to avoid activity. Get moving whenever you can find the time—your mind and body will thank you!
Overcoming obstacles to exercise
Even when you know that exercise will help you feel better, taking that first step is still easier said than done. Obstacles to exercising are very real—particularly when you’re also struggling with a mental health issue.
Here are some common barriers and how you can get past them.
Feeling exhausted. When you’re tired, depressed, or stressed, it seems that working out will just make you feel worse. But the truth is that physical activity is a powerful energizer. Studies show that regular exercise can dramatically reduce fatigue and increase your energy levels. If you are really feeling tired, promise yourself a quick, 5-minute walk. Chances are, once you get moving you’ll have more energy and be able to walk for longer.
Feeling overwhelmed. When you’re stressed or depressed, the thought of adding another obligation to your busy daily schedule can seem overwhelming. Working out just doesn’t seem practical. If you have children, finding childcare while you exercise can also be a big hurdle. However, if you begin thinking of physical activity as a priority (a necessity for your mental well-being), you’ll soon find ways to fit small amounts of exercise into even the busiest schedule.
Feeling hopeless. Even if you’ve never exercised before, you can still find ways to comfortably get active. Start slow with easy, low-impact activities a few minutes each day, such as walking or dancing.
Feeling bad about yourself. Are you your own worst critic? It’s time to try a new way of thinking about your body. No matter your weight, age or fitness level, there are plenty of others in the same boat. Ask a friend to exercise with you. Accomplishing even the smallest fitness goals will help you gain body confidence and improve how you think about yourself.
Feeling pain. If you have a disability, severe weight problem, arthritis, or any injury or illness that limits your mobility, talk to your doctor about ways to safely exercise. You shouldn’t ignore pain, but rather do what you can, when you can. Divide your exercise into shorter, more frequent chunks of time if that helps, or try exercising in water to reduce joint or muscle discomfort.
Getting started with exercise when you have a mental health issue
Many of us find it hard enough to motivate ourselves to exercise at the best of times. But when you feel depressed, anxious, stressed or have another mental health problem, it can seem doubly difficult. This is especially true of depression and anxiety, which can leave you feeling trapped in a catch-22 situation. You know exercise will make you feel better, but depression has robbed you of the energy and motivation you need to work out, or your social anxiety means you can’t bear the thought of being seen at an exercise class or running through the park.
Start small. When you’re under the cloud of anxiety or depression and haven’t exercised for a long time, setting extravagant goals like completing a marathon or working out for an hour every morning will only leave you more despondent if you fall short. Better to set achievable goals and build up from there.
Schedule workouts when your energy is highest. Perhaps you have most energy first thing in the morning before work or school or at lunchtime before the mid-afternoon lull hits? Or maybe you do better exercising for longer at the weekends. If depression or anxiety has you feeling tired and unmotivated all day long, try dancing to some music or simply going for a walk. Even a short, 15-minute walk can help clear your mind, improve your mood, and boost your energy level. As you move and start to feel a little better, you’ll often boost your energy enough to exercise more vigorously—by walking further, breaking into a run, or adding a bike ride, for example.
Focus on activities you enjoy. Any activity that gets you moving counts. That could include throwing a Frisbee with a dog or friend, walking laps of a mall window shopping, or cycling to the grocery store. If you've never exercised before or don't know what you might enjoy, try a few different things. Activities such as gardening or tackling a home improvement project can be great ways to start moving more when you have a mood disorder—as well as helping you become more active, they can also leave you with a sense of purpose and accomplishment.
Be comfortable. Wear clothing that's comfortable and choose a setting that you find calming or energizing. That may be a quiet corner of your home, a scenic path, or your favorite city park.
Reward yourself. Part of the reward of completing an activity is how much better you'll feel afterwards, but it always helps your motivation to promise yourself an extra treat for exercising. Reward yourself with a hot bubble bath after a workout, a delicious smoothie, or with an extra episode of your favorite TV show, for example.
Make exercise a social activity. Exercising with a friend or loved one, or even your kids, will not only make exercising more fun and enjoyable, it can also help motivate you to stick to a workout routine. You'll also feel better than if you were exercising alone. In fact, when you're suffering from a mood disorder such as depression, the companionship can be just as important as the exercise.
Easy ways to move more that don't involve the gym
Don’t have a 30-minute block of time to dedicate to yoga or a bike ride? Don’t worry. Think about physical activity as a lifestyle rather than just a single task to check off your to-do list. Look at your daily routine and consider ways to sneak in activity here, there, and everywhere.
<Move in and around your home. Clean the house, wash the car, tend to the yard and garden, mow the lawn with a push mower, sweep the sidewalk or patio with a broom.
Sneak activity in at work or on the go. Bike or walk to an appointment rather than drive, use stairs instead of elevators, briskly walk to the bus stop then get off one stop early, park at the back of the lot and walk into the store or office, or take a vigorous walk during your coffee break.
Get active with the family. Jog around the soccer field during your kid’s practice, make a neighborhood bike ride part of your weekend routine, play tag with your children in the yard, go canoeing at a lake, walk the dog in a new place.
Get creative with exercise ideas. Pick fruit at an orchard, boogie to music, go to the beach or take a hike, gently stretch while watching television, organize an office bowling team, take a class in martial arts, dance, or yoga.
Make exercise a fun part of your everyday life
You don't have to spend hours in a gym or force yourself into long, monotonous workouts to experience the many benefits of exercise. These tips can help you find activities you enjoy and start to feel better, look better, and get more out of life.
Authors: Lawrence Robinson, Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., and Melinda Smith, M.A.
Greer, T. L., Trombello, J. M., Rethorst, C. D., Carmody, T. J., Jha, M. K., Liao, A., Grannemann, B. D., Chambliss, H. O., Church, T. S., & Trivedi, M. H. (2016). Improvements in psychosocial functioning and health-related quality of life following exercise augmentation in patients with treatment response but non-remitted major depressive disorder: Results from the TREAD study. Depression and Anxiety, 33(9), 870–881. https://doi.org/10.1002/da.22521
Kandola, A., Vancampfort, D., Herring, M., Rebar, A., Hallgren, M., Firth, J., & Stubbs, B. (2018). Moving to Beat Anxiety: Epidemiology and Therapeutic Issues with Physical Activity for Anxiety. Current Psychiatry Reports, 20(8), 63. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11920-018-0923-x
Aylett, E., Small, N., & Bower, P. (2018). Exercise in the treatment of clinical anxiety in general practice – a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Health Services Research, 18(1), 559. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12913-018-3313-5
Stubbs, B., Vancampfort, D., Rosenbaum, S., Firth, J., Cosco, T., Veronese, N., Salum, G. A., & Schuch, F. B. (2017). An examination of the anxiolytic effects of exercise for people with anxiety and stress-related disorders: A meta-analysis. Psychiatry Research, 249, 102–108. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2016.12.020(Video) Free things to do for your health
Kandola, A. A., Osborn, D. P. J., Stubbs, B., Choi, K. W., & Hayes, J. F. (2020). Individual and combined associations between cardiorespiratory fitness and grip strength with common mental disorders: A prospective cohort study in the UK Biobank. BMC Medicine, 18(1), 303. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12916-020-01782-9
Around the web
Last updated: October 14, 2022
Exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function.What is exercise short answer? ›
Exercise is also known as physical activity. In simple terms exercise is any movement that works your body at a greater intensity than your usual level of daily activity. Exercise raises your heart rate and works your muscles and is most commonly undertaken to achieve the aim of physical fitness.What are 5 ways to improve mental health? ›
- Connect with other people. Good relationships are important for your mental wellbeing. ...
- Be physically active. Being active is not only great for your physical health and fitness. ...
- Learn new skills. ...
- Give to others. ...
- Pay attention to the present moment (mindfulness)
- Improved mood.
- Reduced stress as well as an improved ability to cope with stress.
- Improved self-esteem.
- Pride in physical accomplishments.
- Increased satisfaction with oneself.
- Improved body image.
- Increased feelings of energy.
- Improved in confidence in your physical abilities.
Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.What is mental exercise? ›
Doing crossword puzzles, Sudoku games, jigsaw puzzles and other games that rely on logic, math, word and visuospatial skills are great ways to increase brainpower. These types of games require multiple cognitive abilities, which challenges your brain and improves processing speed and memory.How does exercise benefit your social health? ›
One of the biggest social benefits of exercise is just that – an improved social life. Especially if you participate in team sports or exercise with a group, you'll develop greater empathy and social skills. You'll also make new friends and gain new social outlets.How does regular exercise help to reduce the effect of mental stress? ›
Exercise reduces levels of the body's stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that are the body's natural painkillers and mood elevators.Why is exercise important in our daily life? ›
Regular physical activity can improve your muscle strength and boost your endurance. Exercise delivers oxygen and nutrients to your tissues and helps your cardiovascular system work more efficiently. And when your heart and lung health improve, you have more energy to tackle daily chores.What is the best meaning of exercise? ›
Exercise is defined as any movement that makes your muscles work and requires your body to burn calories. There are many types of physical activity, including swimming, running, jogging, walking, and dancing, to name a few. Being active has been shown to have many health benefits, both physically and mentally.
- Aerobic or "cardio" activities. These make your heart beat faster and make you breathe harder, such as brisk walking, riding a bike, or running. ...
- Strength training activities. These make your muscles work against, or "resist," something. ...
Poor mental health makes us more vulnerable to certain physical health problems, such as heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Nurturing our mental health can also help prevent the development of mental illnesses. Good mental health helps us have a more positive outlook and enjoy our lives more.How can I stay mentally strong? ›
- Focus on the moment. ...
- Embrace adversity. ...
- Exercise your mind. ...
- Challenge yourself. ...
- Respond positively. ...
- Be mindful. ...
- Don't be defeated by fear. ...
- Be aware of self-talk.
Summary. People who exercise regularly have better mental health and emotional wellbeing, and lower rates of mental illness. Exercise is important for people with mental illness – it not only boosts our mood, concentration and alertness, but improves our cardiovascular and overall physical health.Is physical activity good for mental health? ›
Participation in regular physical activity can increase our self-esteem and can reduce stress and anxiety. It also plays a role in preventing the development of mental health problems and in improving the quality of life of people experiencing mental health problems.What is mental health essay? ›
Mental health refers to a person's psychological, emotional, and social well-being; it influences what they feel and how they think, and behave. The state of cognitive and behavioural well-being is referred to as mental health. The term 'mental health' is also used to refer to the absence of mental disease.How do you stay healthy physically and mentally? ›
Get Up and Move
Physical activity does more than improve your physical health. It releases endorphins that boost your mood and reduce stress. “Exercise boosts levels of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine.
brain exercise; brain teaser; brain-exercise.What it means to be mentally healthy? ›
Mental health is a state of mental well-being that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, realize their abilities, learn well and work well, and contribute to their community.What are the 5 most important benefits of exercise? ›
Being physically active can improve your brain health, help manage weight, reduce the risk of disease, strengthen bones and muscles, and improve your ability to do everyday activities.
In the aging population, exercise has been shown to prevent disease, lower the risk of falls, improve mental health and well-being, strengthen social ties, and improve cognitive function.How can you exercise your social life? ›
Integrating exercise into our social life has been shown to have a positive impact on more than just our physical health. For example, exercising with a friend, or in a group setting, passes the time quicker, makes us more likely to try new things and brings variety because we all have different skills and knowledge.How do you feel while doing the exercise? ›
Your body releases chemicals called endorphins when you exercise. Endorphins are "feel-good" chemicals that can uplift your mood and even reduce feelings of stress, anxiety and depression.What is the benefits of exercise essay? ›
Benefits of Exercise
It is because you burn calories when you exercise. Further, it helps in developing your muscles. Thus, the rate of your body will increases which helps to burn calories. Moreover, it also helps in improving the oxygen level and blood flow of the body.
Chest and arm muscles
It's important to have strong arms and chest muscles because we use them for so many different things: when we reach for things, carry groceries, lift heavy objects. In fact, we often take these muscles for granted because of how often we use them in our day to day.
Just as physical fitness helps our bodies to stay strong, mental fitness helps us to achieve and sustain a state of good mental health. When we are mentally healthy, we enjoy our life and environment, and the people in it. We can be creative, learn, try new things, and take risks.Is it better to exercise or exercise? ›
If you are referring to a specific activity that someone does for practice or exercise, it is a count noun. If you are referring to the idea of exercise, then it is non-count. Count: When I lift weights, I have six different exercises that I do to build arm strength.What are the examples of exercise? ›
Examples include brisk walking, jogging, swimming, and biking. Strength, or resistance training, exercises make your muscles stronger. Some examples are lifting weights and using a resistance band.How do I become mentally fit? ›
- Get physical exercise. The mind and body are interconnected. ...
- Eat and drink smart. ...
- Meditate daily. ...
- Keep a gratitude journal. ...
- Make noticing new things part of your day. ...
- Practice savoring. ...
- Practice noticing your thoughts. ...
- Practice body awareness.
- Lunges. Challenging your balance is an essential part of a well-rounded exercise routine. ...
- Pushups. Drop and give me 20! ...
- Squats. ...
- Standing overhead dumbbell presses. ...
- Dumbbell rows. ...
- Single-leg deadlifts. ...
- Burpees. ...
- Side planks.
Over the long term, aerobic exercise reduces your risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, breast and colon cancer, depression, and falls. Aim for 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity. Try brisk walking, swimming, jogging, cycling, dancing, or classes like step aerobics.What are 3 facts about mental health? ›
Myth: Mental health problems don't affect me.
One in five American adults experienced a mental health issue. One in 6 young people experienced a major depressive episode. One in 20 Americans lived with a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression.
Overview. Mental illness, also called mental health disorders, refers to a wide range of mental health conditions — disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behavior. Examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders and addictive behaviors.What are 3 benefits of mental health? ›
Increased self-esteem. Improved self-expression and management of emotions. Relief from depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. Clarity.What is mental exercise? ›
Doing crossword puzzles, Sudoku games, jigsaw puzzles and other games that rely on logic, math, word and visuospatial skills are great ways to increase brainpower. These types of games require multiple cognitive abilities, which challenges your brain and improves processing speed and memory.What are 2 brain changing benefits of exercise? ›
- Decreased stress.
- Decreased social anxiety.
- Improved processing of emotions.
- Prevention of neurological conditions.
- Euphoria (short-term)
- Increased energy, focus and attention.
- Hinderance to the aging process.
- Improved memory.
According to the researchers, the sweet spot is right around 30–60 minutes three to five times a week (or 120–360 minutes per week, total). Any more or less, and the brain benefits wane. But if you work out more than that, there's reason for hope.What are some mental health activities? ›
- Get plenty of sleep. ...
- Stop to enjoy small aspects of the day. ...
- Use a stress ball or some other stress reliever. ...
- Perform a random act of kindness. ...
- Exercise. ...
- Deep breathing exercises. ...
- Yoga. ...
- Pet a dog.
Poor mental health makes us more vulnerable to certain physical health problems, such as heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Nurturing our mental health can also help prevent the development of mental illnesses. Good mental health helps us have a more positive outlook and enjoy our lives more.How does exercise reduce stress? ›
Exercise increases your overall health and your sense of well-being, which puts more pep in your step every day. But exercise also has some direct stress-busting benefits. It pumps up your endorphins. Physical activity may help bump up the production of your brain's feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins.
- Make social connection — especially face-to-face — a priority. ...
- Stay active. ...
- Talk to someone. ...
- Appeal to your senses. ...
- Take up a relaxation practice. ...
- Make leisure and contemplation a priority. ...
- Eat a brain-healthy diet to support strong mental health. ...
- Don't skimp on sleep.
brain exercise; brain teaser; brain-exercise.What it means to be mentally healthy? ›
Mental health is a state of mental well-being that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, realize their abilities, learn well and work well, and contribute to their community.What type of exercise is best for brain? ›
- Aerobic exercise. Regular aerobic exercise boosts blood flow to your brain, and also boosts the size of your hippocampus, the part of your brain that's involved in verbal memory and learning, Small says. ...
- Weight training. ...
- Yoga. ...
- Tai chi.
Take up tai chi
Taking up a regular practice of tai chi can help reduce stress, enhance sleep quality, and improve memory. A 2013 study found that long-term tai chi practice could induce structural changes in the brain, resulting in an increase in brain volume.
When you exercise, you provide a low-dose jolt to the brain's reward centers—the system of the brain that helps you anticipate pleasure, feel motivated, and maintain hope. Over time, regular exercise remodels the reward system, leading to higher circulating levels of dopamine and more available dopamine receptors.