How exercise benefits mental health

Learn how exercise really benefits your mental health

Benefits of exercise on your mental health
Benefits of exercise on your mental health — Unsplash

I’ve recently had a few physical and mental setbacks which have rendered me lethargic, fatigued, feeling fat, and unhappy. I’m a great believer that exercise benefits mental health, hence my digging out this old post, seeking inspiration and motivation.

I’d previously come across a great blog called When Women Inspire. It’s written by Christy Birmingham, a Canadian writer, blogger and author. As I write about all things mental health, I found one of Christy’s posts particularly interesting. Rather than reinventing the wheel, Christy’s allowed me to re-blog her post How exercise benefits mental health.

Furthermore, many studies support the growing literature suggesting that exercise has beneficial effects across several physical and mental health outcomes. Research shows that participants engaging in regular physical activity display more desirable health outcomes across a variety of physical conditions. Similarly, participants in randomized clinical trials of physical-activity interventions show better health outcomes. Moreover, they experience better general and health-related quality of life, better functional capacity and better mood states.

The physical benefits of exercise are well known, but what effect can it have on your mind and mental health? Let’s find out.

Exercise and changes in mood

Effects of exercise on your mind and body
Effects of exercise on your mental health

According to Lane and Lovejoy, the general trend in research findings indicates that exercise has a mood enhancing effect. This is typified by increased vigor and reduced anger, confusion, depression, fatigue, and tension. As I expected, Lane and Lovejoy’s own study concluded that exercise does bring about improved mood.

Another study by Brand et al said “Studies at the macro level (such as longer-term interventions) showed that physical activity impacts positively on cognitive-emotional processes of patients with mental disorders. However, research focusing on the immediate impact of acute bouts of exercise (micro level) are missing.

The aim of Brand et al’s study was therefore to investigate whether and to what extent single bouts of moderately intense exercise can influence psychological functioning in inpatients with mental disorders.

The study showed how psychological states improved from pre- to post-session. Improvements were observed for mood, social interactions, attention, and physical strengths. Likewise, rumination and tiredness decreased. Mood, rumination, and tiredness further improved, when patients completed the questionnaires the second time in the same week.

The study concluded “at micro level, single bouts of exercise impacted positively on

  • cognitive-emotional processes such as mood, rumination, attention and social interactions
  • and physiological states of tiredness and physical strengths

among inpatients with mental disorders. In addition, further improvements were observed, if patients participated in physical activities a second time.”

So, there we have it. Even one bout of exercise is helpful! Whoo hoo!

Speaking from experience

Swimming is a great stress reliever
Swimming is a great stress reliever — Photo by Heart Rules

I know from both personal and professional experience that exercise is beneficial for mental health. At the Day Hospital I worked in, we had weekly swimming sessions at our local pool. We also had our own gym with two full-time fitness instructors, which was a big hit with patients. And staff often joined patients for workouts.

One year, four of us (two staff and two patients) exercised, trained for and completed a 5k charity run for cancer. We each romped home in less than 40 minutes — you can imagine just how happy that made us all feel.

We always carried out pre- and post- physical activity assessments and noted vast improvements in the same areas as the studies above. The results were recorded and documented in both the patients’ notes and in a separate interventions folder. We were able to use these results to measure the success of the various interventions provided by the Day Hospital.

Personally speaking

Now, I’m not a lady that wants a rock hard body worthy of those fitness competitions. But more recently, and as I’ve gotten older, I feel I’ve let myself go and my bingo wings are beginning to flap a little lot more than I’d wish. And let’s not mention the pumpkinesque physique I’ve mysteriously developed. Mind you, it hasn’t bothered me that much that I’ve done any exercising. But, and bear with me here, I really am going to start!

I’ve been sadly lacking energy and motivation lately, but seriously, now it’s time to take a bit of my own advice. Action happens first and motivation follows! I’m going to have hubby take some before pics, urgh! That ought to work 😉 and the exercise will follow.

What I’ll need to exercise at home

Toned arms like Jade Pinkett-Smith @ Instagram
Toned arms like Jade Pinkett-Smith @ Instagram

Now you might think that toning my arms á la Jade Pinkett-Smith or Heidi Klum requires a gym full of equipment. But all I’ll really need to sculpt some seriously taut and toned limbs is a pair of dumbbells. Mind you, 2 x 2 litre cartons of milk will also work, and 15-20 minutes.

I’ve read somewhere that I should crank up the under arm toning exercises 2-4 times a week for added strength and definition in my biceps and triceps. Don’t laugh…………… I’m determined.

I’ll keep you posted and hopefully get some after pics, showing off my newly toned arms. However, rest assured, you’ll not be seeing any of my slimmed down Rubenesque body snaps any time soon.

Over to you

Any questions?

Do you or have you found that exercise helps improve your mood? What type of exercises do you do and is that a lone or a group activity? I’d love to hear what works best for you, and it would be great if you shared any tips. I look forward to your comments, questions or constructive criticism about any of my posts, and my blog in general.

Can we improve our motivation when we’re exhausted?

Is it possible to improve our motivation?

Can we improve our motivation through frequent work outs?
Can workout improve our motivation? Endorphins and motivation photo by Retha Ferguson on

In my previous post Why is motivation important, we learned what motivation is, and the two main types; intrinsic and extrinsic. In this post we’ll explore little or no motivation, what to do about it, and find out if it’s possible to improve our motivation.

Just to remind you that, in their simplest form, you can think about the two types of motivation as:

  • Extrinsic = related to what we have to do.
  • Intrinsic = related to what we want to do.

We’re all motivated by different things and at different points in our lives. The same task can have more intrinsic motivators at certain times and more extrinsic motivators at others. And most tasks have a combination of the two. But sometimes, some of us have:

Little or no motivation

Little or no motivation - what can we do to combat depression?
Little or no motivation, a typical case of depression — Photo by mikoto

My previous post ended quite abruptly because my energy and motivation were flagging, due to ill-health. And I’m pretty sure you’ve all had this happen on occasion? In fact, I think most people have.

Imagine J. K. Rowling thinking one day, “I can’t be bothered telling or writing stories anymore. It’s too much like hard work.” or

Holly Willoughby wakes up one morning, thinking, “nope, I’m not doing this, I just don’t feel like doing anything today.

At some point, most people will have had thoughts like this. The truth is, we all goes through periods where we have no motivation to do anything. We’ve all struggled to stay motivated when working towards a goal. It’s human nature. In fact, some days we have such a downer that even thinking about making positive changes feels impossible.

So, what can we do about this little or no motivation?

Little steps towards improving motivation
Little steps towards motivation — Photo from

Let’s start off with, it’s not hopeless! We can start our journey down the road to improved motivation — with some small steps.

When shopping, have you seen huge displays of vitamins, herbs, and other supplements like purple dandelion touted as energy boosters? They’re even added to teas, soft drinks and many other foods. However, there’s not much evidence that energy boosters like chamomile, turmeric ginseng, or crushed owls eyes actually work. Fortunately, we have ways to enhance our own natural energy levels and improve our motivation.

Okay, I know you don’t feel like doing anything some days, and you’re not alone. I’ve been there, and in fact I still get stuck in that downward spiral now and again. But I’ve learned some small steps to help me crawl out of that downer, and that’s what we’ll look at in this post.

We all have downers or lows in terms of energy and motivation. We can be stuck and overwhelmed from time to time, which can reduce motivation. It’s at times like this when we need to find that motivation within ourselves. The next time you feel exhausted and unmotivated, try one or several of the following suggestions to get motivated again.

Suggestions for how to improve your motivation

Practice improving your motivation - Yoga produces endorphins, which help in keeping you motivated
Practice improving your motivation — Photo by Elly Fairytale

So how can you practice improving your motivation? By doing just that – practicing. I’ve probably bored the pants off you when I say practice, but trust me, that’s what’s needed. Think of motivation as being a muscle, and that you have to keep practicing to strengthen it.

Some of you reading this have, like me, a mental illness which further reduces our energy and motivation to do anything. I get that and can empathise with you, but we all need to start somewhere. Why not here, and now?

We learned in previous posts that action comes first, and motivation comes after. So you……

Want to improve your motivation? Just get started!

Reach for the sky and stay positive to prevent mental illness.
Being positive makes it easier to stay motivated — Photo by Andre Furtado

Take action. Move. Do something. Get up out of your chair, if you’re physically able. Now, standing, raise your arms and hands up above over your head, as though reaching for the sky. Go on. You need to practice all this, so that when you really need it, you can use it in an instant. Hands up, and stretch……..

Life Hack suggest “letting loose all the body parts, allowing a non-disrupted flow of energy throughout it. This will make the blood flow better, especially coming to your head which needs to focus on demanding cognitive tasks. So stand up from your chair and stretch yourself out because it will make you more energized.” You can also try some simple stretches at work, in college or uni and even in your local park.

After a few minutes of reaching up and stretching, relax. Put your arms down by your sides and as you do so, relax some more. Make sure your shoulders drop down from your ears, unclench your teeth and your jaw, and uncurl your fingers. Relax. And breathe.

I mentioned in my last post that I’d used this technique and followed through with helping to clean my flat. That motivated me further to think about other odd jobs I can tackle. So, the action certainly motivated me.

Control your stress

Take time to relax and prevent anxiety- and panic attacks
Stop! And breathe. Do away with anxiety! — Photo by Criativithy

We all know that stress-induced emotions consume massive amounts of our energy and reduce our motivation. So, know your limits as to how much stress you can realistically take on.

Talking to family, close friends, or perhaps a counsellor can all help reduce stress and get your mojo back. Relationships play a major part in our lives and are the main source of our happiness. So, one of the best energy boosters is actually meeting up and just having a good time. In the meantime, when you start to feel stressed, stop!

Take a moment, and breathe. I mean really breathe. First, exhale through your mouth, in little puffs – out until you feel you can’t do it anymore. Second, inhale slowly and deeply, in through your nose until your lungs are filled with air. Out again through your mouth, little puffs, slowly. In through your nose. When you’ve done this three times, you can stop, and relax.

Remember that your body cannot be both relaxed and stressed at the same time

You might also want to try other natural stress relievers like mindfulness, hypnosis, yoga, acupuncture, massage, aromatherapy, relaxation and visualisation. There’s heaps of evidence proving that these techniques help reduce stress and can promote improved motivation. So don’t dismiss them until you’ve tried them.

Taking at least twenty minutes out of your day to stroll or sit in a place that makes you feel in contact with nature will significantly lower your stress hormone levels. That’s the finding of a study that has established for the first time the most effective dose of an urban nature experience. Healthcare practitioners can use this discovery, published in Frontiers in Psychology, to prescribe ‘nature-pills’ in the knowledge that they have a real measurable effect, Neuroscience News, 2019.

Lighten your load

It's harder to be motivated if you are working under stress.
Lighten your load, avoid stress factors — Photo by Oladimeji Ajegbile

Overwork is one reason for fatigue i.e. at work or at home, or because of our ever-increasing social commitments. However, you can also be fatigued due to depression or other mental illnesses. Try streamlining your list of ‘have- to-do’ activities. List your priorities in terms of the essential tasks first. Cut back on those that are less important. You might want to try asking people for help, at home, at work or in your role as fundraiser at the kids’ school.

Start by saying “No!” to people who regularly ask favours — you don’t have to tell them why or that you’re too stressed out and overloaded. Say calmly and firmly “No!” and if you must elaborate, try saying “No, not today.” And. Smile. Then don’t suddenly change your mind, like “Oh! Okay, go on then,” even if they persist.

You might also find one of my previous articles Strategies to relieve your stress helpful.

Stay in the moment

A recent study by Harvard students suggests that living in the moment significantly reduces mental illness
Stay in the moment — Photo by Samuel Silitonga

Whenever we’re doing something, we’re always thinking about the next thing we’ve got to do. So we’re constantly chasing things in the future, which is never quite here, in the moment. For example:

You’re working on a project at work at the moment, but you can’t stop thinking about the meeting you’ve got in an hour. When you get to the meeting, you’re thinking about picking the kids up and what’s for dinner. During dinner you’re thinking about the call you have to make to mum before you go to bed.

When you finally get into bed, you’re thinking about (nope, not that) putting a wash on before breakfast. On you go, in this never-ending cycle until you’re dizzy, you’re exhausted, out of energy and motivation to do anything. Sound familiar?

Stop! Stay in the moment and enjoy now! We can all try to plan for the future, but I’ve yet to meet someone who can see into the future. So, stop wasting time thinking and worrying about things that might never happen. Living in the moment not only brings energy but saves the energy you’d waste thinking and worrying about everything you’ve got to do next.

Mindfulness is an effective tool you can use to stay, and live in the moment.

I’ve read that the best way to increase motivation is to power up our self-motivation. That’s what we’ll look at in my next post, and I’ll let you have some tried and tested strategies that might help you.

Over to you

What do you think?
Over to you

Have you tried any of the above ways to improve your motivation? Or, will you give them a go? I look forward to receiving your feedback, any constructive criticism, or your comments and any questions. In the meantime, keep practicing 😉


Why is motivation important

Is motivation important in everyday life?

Motivation is important in life
Motivation is important — Image by Clique Images @ unsplash

Of course motivation is important, and in almost every aspect of human behavior too. Why? Without it, we’d do nothing; not work, have no hobbies, and no meeting up with family or friends.

Do you wish you were more motivated sometimes? I think we all do. There are times like weekends when you just want to chill out in your pj’s, and that’s okay. But on other days, we need the motivation to go to the gym, walk the dogs or go to work.

In my previous post Is self-confidence important, the words motivation and action were mentioned briefly. We found out that if there’s no action, there’s no motivation. We also learned that action comes before, and motivation comes after, and with that, comes more motivation. In this post we’ll explore why it’s important.

So what is it?

Motivation causes you to act. adult blur books close up
Motivation causes you to act i.e. to study — Photo by Pixabay on

Motivation is the process that guides, initiates, and maintains goal-oriented behaviors.

It is what causes you to act, whether it is getting a glass of water to reduce thirst or reading a book to gain knowledge.

It involves the biological, emotional, social, and cognitive forces that activate behavior.”

Very Well Mind

Why it’s important

woman wearing grey long sleeved top photography
Motivation is the desire to do things -Photo by Artem Beliaikin

Motivation is a starting point for all our choices such as partners, careers, or hobbies. It’s the reason for people’s actions, desires and needs, it makes people ready to act. It’s the force that pushes us on to develop, to change, improve and to achieve. 

Psychology Today said “Motivation is literally the desire to do things. It’s the difference between waking up before dawn to pound the pavement and lazing around the house all day. It’s the crucial element in setting and attaining goals.”

In school or uni, if we’re motivated we learn better and remember more of what we learned. At work, we’re more likely to complete tasks on time, and in the gym, we’re more able to push ourselves that little bit further.

You can read about the 9 or 11 types of motivation, but broadly speaking, there are two main types:

Intrinsic motivation

Intrinsic motivation - woman wearing black sports bra and jogger shorts smiling
Intrinsic motivation — Photo by nappy on
  • is engaging in an activity for its own sake. You enjoy the activity because it’s fun or challenging, not because you’ll get a reward or avoid punishment.
  • where people are generally motivated by a desire to satisfy human needs and comes from within. It’s driven by a personal interest or enjoyment in the task itself, be that at work, in college or in sport. For example, you love tennis and you want to get better at it. You don’t want to compete in the next Olympics, you just want to play, and be better. You’d also love to wipe that smile of your big-headed pal’s face.
  • might come from a person’s own self-confidence and discipline, a desire to please their boss or do well for their company or the desire to achieve certain professional or personal goals.
  • results in growth, i.e. growth due to challenges you’ve overcome or are experiencing. This might come after a divorce or separation and mental or physical illness.
  • is clearly visible in young infants, that consistently try to grasp, throw, bite, squash or shout at new objects they encounter. Even if less important as they grow, human adults are still often intrinsically motivated while they play crosswords, make paintings, do gardening or just read novels or watch movies, according to Ryan and Deci (2000) 

Yet, to get a clearer picture of intrinsic motivation, one needs to understand that it has been defined by contrast to:

Extrinsic motivation

Extrinsic motivation such as money, silver and gold coins
Extrinsic motivation such as money — Photo by Pixabay on
  • refers to behavior that is driven by external rewards such as praise, money, fame, or grades. This type of motivation arises from outside the individual.
  • can be driven by psychological or tangible rewards. The psychological rewards like praise, positive feelings or lack of criticism can sometimes come from within. However, they’re a type of motivating reward that is external to the actual process of participating in the event. The tangible rewards like new toys, a bonus at work or extra pocket money are simply always external.
  • refers to doing something not because you enjoy it, but because you want to earn a reward or avoid punishment.
  • where you don’t want to do something, but you must do it, i.e. take various medications each day. It feels more out of necessity rather than an activity that will bring you enjoyment or fulfilment.

Do you look forward to your daily workout because you have a bet with your best friend about who can lose the most weight? Then you’re extrinsically motivated — in this situation, at least. We’re never just intrinsically or extrinsically motivated. We can be either or, in different situations.

So now we know that motivation is important, what it is, and the two main types. In my next post we’ll explore little or no motivation, and what to do about it. In the meantime:

Over to you

While I felt motivated to complete this topic in one post, I honestly don’t have the energy. When researching this article, I saw several google suggestions as to How to motivate yourself when you’re tired, fatigued or just plain exhausted! I haven’t read these Bullsh*t claims yet but once I do, I’ll let you have my opinion. I might just have to eat my words 😉 As always, I’m happy to read any comments, receive constructive criticism and answer any questions.


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