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.


Mum to two amazing sons. Following recovery from a lengthy psychotic episode, depression, anxiety and anorexia, I decided to train as a Mental Health Nurse and worked successfully in various settings before becoming a Ward Manager. I am a Mental Health First Aid Instructor and a Mental Health Awareness Trainer, Mental Health First Aid Youth and Mental Health Armed Forces Instructor. Just started my mental health from the other side blog.

28 thoughts on “How exercise benefits mental health”

  1. I’m feeling good enough some days to go out for a walk! How far I’ve come from being able to walk 1 street last year. Moving can be so fun, I hope I’ll dare to go back to yoga next year but I’m so afraid that I will not be able to do it.

      1. Forcing things is not good, better to enjoy what you can. The fatigue though, it’s so unpredictable and yet it feels like it is in charge of what I think and do. I think that everything happens for a reason when it hits me, I have no other comforting thought 🙂

  2. I hope you inspire somebody to maybe think about their own mental health, whether that be starting a blog post, or whatever. I hope I inspire other stroke survivors who come across my writing, to believe that life doesn’t have to be over. I hope we’re all inspirational in some way.
    I used to exercise a lot and it required focusing and concentration to get better. It is not just a physical thing, it exercises your brain too. So it is no surprise, what the studies say.

    1. Thank you as always. If we can all inspire just a handful of people, who then go on to inspire others…….. wow! Yes, I hope I’ve inspired someone along the way 🙂 I know you’ve inspired me and I’ve passed on some of your posts to my mum. My dad had a stroke a few years ago and I cut and paste bits for her to read – so she can understand some of the changes in my dad. So thank you 🙂

      1. A lot of it with me is just that I’m more sedentary. I *do* a lot less, but I *think* a lot more, so something like WordPress is an ideal platform for me to muse. I mean, I was critical of a lot of stuff afterwards, but in particular there was nothing there for my wife, so I understand about support for partners. If you can get your mum using Facebook, there is peer support up there in certain groups – survivors and partners.

  3. This is one of the biggest issues I have in my life right now, being active. In the past I’ve made many achievements in improving my physical health, but for some reason the last 2 years have been the worst. I am at my highest weight I ever been and never thought I’d see. I think for me, it’s just a lack of motivation that I am trying to find and getting over that feeling of fatigue and lethargic that comes along with my hormonal issues. I recently download an app called BetterMe. I’m not going to lie, I haven’t got started yet, but I like the idea and hopes it brings me some focus. It helps with exercises and meals based on your body type. I hoping this will motivate me. Also, night walks are always soothing and therapeutic. Wonder post Caz. -Asha

    1. Thank you for sharing your personal experiences Asha and like you, I never thought I’d be the weight I am (outside of being pregnant that is). Anyone will tell you, I’m not a big eater anyway but I could literally starve myself for days — and do you think I can lose a single ounce?

      Okay, so I’m definitely going to start ‘light’ exercise tomorrow and you might start on your BetterMe app — so we can both share how we get on lol.

      I’ll let peeps know maybe next week, how I get on. Oh, the walks sound like a good idea but I wouldn’t feel safe doing that in London, unfortunately 🙁

    1. That’s good to hear Mio. Yes, I’ll start tomorrow, as I said – on a public forum lol – so now I have to take action 😉 Yes, let’s make ourselves feel better, together. We’ll keep each other posted 🙂

  4. I always loved sport at school, kept on exercising throughout adulthood because it meant I could satisfy my sweet tooth without putting on too much weight, and now at 63, I love my aquafit classes and walking. Lockdown of course put paid to the classes and walking isn’t enough to burn up the calories so my clothes are getting tighter!
    If I do less than 5000 steps a day I feel heavy and lethargic, and if I let it, my mood could suffer too.
    Can’t wait to resume my aquafit – I’ll definitely be happier. Just hope I can still do it!

    1. Wow, good for you Gwen! Aquafit sounds good and I think if I had a local gym, I’d give that a go. I find it much easier to be able to move when I’m in the water. And you do 5000 steps, whoo hoo!

      Oh, and I’m sure you’ll still be fit enough to return to your classes. You sound so motivated to actually do it – I take my hat off to you 🙂

  5. Thankyou for your vote of confidence! We all know someone who is fit as a flea and spends hours every day honing their body to make us feel inferior, but you’ve just reminded me that I’m not a couch potato and fairly active for my age. 💐

  6. A really good post. I am with you on changing habits. It takes 66 days to change an eating habit, maybe exercise is the same. Here is to reducing those bingo wings 💪

    1. Thank you for commenting Karen and that reminder about how long it takes to change…….. I’m about to start my bingo wing reduction programme lol…… in 10 minutes lol.

  7. Exercise almost always improves my mood. As a runner, I do a lot of my internal processing while running alone. When my energy level and motivation is way down from stress, anxiety, or depression then I walk instead. Moving my body is an excellent coping strategy for me.

    1. Wow, that’s great that you run. Do you live in the countryside or in town? I’m in London and wouldn’t want to run around our streets.

      But yes, when I used to run years ago, it was a great time for reflection, internal processing, decision making and so on.

      You’re right too, that moving is an excellent tool and promotes action. As I mentioned, action comes first and motivation comes after 🙂

      1. I live in the mountains of Colorado. The scenery here calls me to run even when I struggle to convince my body to do so.

  8. I totally agree with this. When I exercise, it relieves so much stress! I’ve exercised off and on all my life. Life gets hectic and sometimes I fall off the wagon. But I always jump back on sooner or later. Thank you for posting!

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