How regular exercise can improve your mental health

How regular exercise can improve your mental health

Mental health can improve with regular exercise or physical activity

Have you ever run a marathon or done a 5K run in support of your mental health? Many have written and talked about the fact that regular exercise routine benefits our mental wellbeing.  Let’s have a closer look at what is what and how it works.

First, countless research studies concluded that staying active benefits and can improve our mental health state. Let’s focus on exercise and physical activity – two different things. Exercise is a pre-planned, structured set of movements to improve and maintain one’s physical fitness. Physical activity involves bodily movements that expend energy. Both have many types and subcategories. Research, study groups and trials confirmed that both can have positive effects on our mental health.

Exercise helps reduce depression, anxiety and stress levels

Both have proved to be beneficial for those of us living with depressionanxiety, stress and other mood disorders. Exercise improves our mental wellbeing through physiological, psychological and biochemical mechanisms our body employs. When exercising, our body releases hormones and the biochemical magic takes place. We experience the ‘happy vibes’ and often feel energised, empowered and more confident in our abilities as a result.

Exercising also reduces inflammation, which can contribute to better physical health and it also benefits people suffering from mood disorders (people with the inflammatory illness are more prone to mood disorders). Exercise can also alleviate depressed mood associated with increased anger, confusion, fatigue, tension, and reduced vigour.

Mental health is as important as physical health and the other way round. Each of them can have a positive or negative effect on the other. If our physical health isn’t great, our mental health may suffer as a result. If our mental health is suffering our physical health may be affected.

regular exercise helps mental health
Photo Credit: Helena Lopes

What are the mental and physical health benefits?

The physical changes that happen within our body as a result of exercising benefit our mental state in the form of an improvement in our mood states, increased self-esteem and lower stress and anxiety levels. The physical benefits of exercise include lower blood pressure, enhanced cardiovascular fitness, weight loss and also possible prevention of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer, obesity, hypertension, osteoporosis and cognitive conditions.                              

The psychological effects of exercise may include a distraction from feelings of depression and anxiety and positive feelings associated with mastery and self-efficacy.

The research also shows that the consistency of our routine plays an important part in improving our mental health. Incorporating exercise or physical activity into our weekly schedule regularly can really result in many physical and mental health benefits. Evidence shows that people who do not exercise regularly have poorer mental and physical health. It has been suggested that exercise and physical activity can bring about benefits comparable to those brought by psychotherapy sessions.

Different types of exercise or activity will benefit our physical and mental wellbeing differently. Some types will be more appropriate to everyone’s specific needs than others.

Negative effects of exercise on mental health

Exercise can negatively affect our mental health too, if we exercise obsessively and in high volumes, putting our body under too much stress and pressure. It could lead to developing minor infections such as upper respiratory tract infections.

People who exercise obsessively or are addicted to exercise are at high risk of suffering an exercise-induced injury too.

Those who struggle with negative self-image and perceptions of body weight can be driven towards physical activities and exercise and use it compulsively as a weight management strategy. This can lead to distressing physical and mental health outcomes when coupled with certain eating disorders.

Pick what is right for your individual needs

Everything needs to be served in moderation and it needs to be planned for. We must ensure that we don’t use fitness as a weapon against ourselves. We must understand what is healthy for us from our physical and mental perspective. And most importantly, every one of us is different and therefore will enjoy a different type of activity.

Let’s not do something just because our friends love it. If you don’t like running, don’t go running. Do walking instead if that is what you, your body and your mind love. Let’s not do a heavy cross-fit session if you hate it but it is in fashion right now. You must pick what will benefit you and what you enjoy the most.

If you feel that you need more than just exercise to help you with your mental health difficulties, counselling can help. As a qualified, BACP registered person-centred counsellor I offer a safe and non-judgemental space where you can talk in confidence. Feel free to get in touch for a FREE initial chat to discuss your needs.



Sonia Teplanova

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