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What are the Benefits of Exercise for Mental Health

  • Jan 20, 2023
  • Mental Health

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We all know that exercise is great for our physical health, but its effect on mental health is less known. In this article, we talk about some of the benefits exercise can bring on our mental health including how it can boost mood, concentration, quality of sleep, self-esteem and memory.

How does exercise benefit mental health

Exercising may be able to boost our mental health in many ways. Here are just six effects of regular exercise on our mental and emotional wellbeing:

1. Exercising releases ‘good’ chemicals in the body

A good workout or exercise session will boost energy levels, leaving us feeling refreshed, motivated, and positive. This is mainly because, when we exercise, our bodies produce ‘feel-good’ hormones, such as endorphins, dopamine and endocannabinoids that help increase our overall mood.

2. Exercising helps improve concentration

The feel-good chemicals produced when we participate in different types of physical activity can help improve concentration. One of these chemicals - dopamine - acts as a messenger between the brain and the body, boosting cognitive activity and enhancing our ability to focus.

3. Exercising leads to better sleep patterns

A good night’s sleep can help us feel refreshed, energised and ready for the day ahead. Regular exercise is a great way to help us sleep well. Even light exercise such as walking ten minutes a day can benefit our sleep. However, avoid vigorous exercise at least three hours before bedtime because exercising too late can interfere with sleep.

4. Exercising can reduce stress and anxiety

Exercise can alleviate feelings of anxiety and stress in different ways. It provides an outlet for negative thoughts and helps control the level of stress hormones in our bodies, including adrenaline and cortisol. It can also act as a distraction, enabling us to take our focus away from worries and concentrate on breathing and achieving our exercise targets.

5. Exercising can boost confidence and self-esteem

Regular physical activity can help boost self-confidence. Setting exercise goals and planning exercise routines can lead to feelings of achievement, determination and dedication.

6. Exercising can be an opportunity to socialise

Exercising can provide a great opportunity to socialise with friends or like-minded people. Whether it’s a morning jog with a friend, or a Zumba class at the local community hall, taking part in fitness activities with others promoted self-care by helping us establish social connections.

What exercises are good for mental health?

Any physical activity can be beneficial but speaking to your doctor before starting any new exercise regime is recommended. Here are some options of exercises you can do:

  • Walking and running is a great form of exercise for setting goals. Being outdoors is also beneficial as the link between mental health and nature is widely discussed.
  • Exercise classes are good for socialising with like-minded people in a fun, safe environment. 
  • A gym workout could be great for motivation and encouragement. You will also have different equipment to try out, which makes the workout more diverse.
  • Yoga is a gentle and low impact exercise that can help you relax and reduce stress through breathing and stretching.
  • Swimming is a calming and rhythmic exercise which can help you release tension and boost your mood. The colour blue is also known for having a soothing effect, helping to alleviate stress.

How does lack of exercise affect mental health?

Exercising can have many positive effects on mental health, but on the other hand, lack of exercise can be detrimental to mental and emotional wellbeing. Without exercise, we become physically and mentally lethargic, leaving us feeling demotivated and discouraged. A sedentary lifestyle means negative emotions can fester and intensify, leading us to spiral further into low mood. When mood is low, you lack the motivation or energy to exercise and so it becomes a vicious cycle which is often difficult to break.

Further support

If you are struggling with your mental health, there are many resources and organisations available to help you. Samaritans run a helpline which is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, while Mental Health Innovations offer a free 24/7 confidential text messaging support service. For urgent mental health support, contact your nearest local NHS mental health helpline or talk to your doctor. 

We also have a number of useful articles on our website, including Simple ways to boost your energy and Looking after your mental health in winter. To find out more about the benefits of exercising, check out 4 less obvious health benefits of regular exercise.

Disclaimer: The content of this website is provided for informational purposes only and does not substitute the medical advice from a healthcare professional.