exercise to boost mental health, couple riding bicycles

Exercise to Boost Your Mental Health

Exercise, physical activity or any regular movement can play an important role in maintaining good mental health.

In fact, one of the most beneficial activities you can do to help protect your mental health is to move regularly. Regular movement can increase your energy, reduce anxiety and stress and boost your self-esteem.

While it’s true, exercise or regular movement can’t cure mental illness, it can provide benefits to boost your overall wellbeing and help you better manage symptoms of poor mental health.

Studies have found that exercise and regular movement significantly improved mental health.

According to one study, on average, a person has 3.4 poor mental health days per month. However, among those that exercised, the number of poor mental health days dropped by more than 40 per cent.

Those who participated in regular exercise or movement were 25 per cent less likely to develop depression or an anxiety disorder over the next five years.

How Can Exercise Affect Mental Health?

There are lots of ways that exercise can benefit your mental health:

  1. Stress Reduction: Regular exercise, including activities like jogging, cycling, dancing, gardening, walking and swimming can lower cortisol levels (the body’s primary stress hormone). Consistent exercise reduces basal cortisol levels and improves stress response, mitigating the negative effects of chronic stress. It also reduces inflammation, which is often elevated during stress.
  2. Improved Mood: Exercise triggers the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine which play a crucial role in mood regulation, attention and cognitive function. Studies show that exercise can improve symptoms among clinically depressed individuals by providing structure and routine to life, reducing feelings of hopelessness.
  3. Cognitive Function: Regular physical activity is linked to changes in the brain, such as increased grey matter and the release of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF supports neuron growth and maintenance, enhancing memory and executive functions like attention and problem-solving. It also lowers the risk of conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and age-related cognitive decline.
  4. Boosted Confidence: Achieving fitness goals and feeling stronger can boost self-esteem. Exercise can also be a social activity, reducing feelings of loneliness through interactions with others during group classes, team sports or walks with friends.
  5. Improved Sleep: Exercise regulates the body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm), leading to consistent sleep schedules and more restful nights. It contributes to deeper stages of sleep, essential for mental and physical recovery.

Exercising For Your Mental Health

If you haven’t already made exercise or regular movement a part of your routine, you might be surprised to learn that even small changes can give you a mental health boost.

Australia’s physical activity and sedentary guidelines recommend adults should be active most days aiming for a total of 5 hours of moderate exercise per week. However, any level of exercise that gets you moving can be beneficial and you’ll start to feel the benefits straight away.

Studies have shown that as little as one hour of exercise per week, regardless of intensity, can help prevent depression and boost mood.

The top three exercise types linked to mental health benefits were:

  • General physical activity (a broad category representing any movement),
  • Cardiovascular/aerobic physical activity, and
  • Yoga.

How To Get Started with Regular Movement

If you haven’t exercised in a while, it may be difficult to restart.  Take time to make an exercise plan and commit to it.

The best way to start is:

  • Choose something you enjoy – Whether you like walking, swimming at the beach or playing a physical team sport, picking something you find fun means you will stick with it.
  • Start small – No need to start with a marathon, set small targets such as walking around the block or taking your dog for a walk and then build up over time as you gain fitness and find activities easier. This will help you feel motivated to keep going.
  • Make time, even if you’re busy – Commit to being active and plan some exercise time despite your busy schedule. Keeping active during busy times can help you better manage tough times.
  • Create a routine – Plan ahead to add activity to your routines. Set out your workout clothes the night before and set an alarm to get up and get after it. Setting your intent through habit will keep you on the path to better overall health.

Get Help

Whether you’re trying to build a new exercise habit or overcome challenges, our psychologists can offer professional guidance and support.

If you are struggling with your mental health, or feel you may benefit from talking to a professional, contact the team at Psychological Health Care.