Exercise and Mental Health

Exercise and Mental Health


As we know, exercise is good for physical health, such as improving our metabolic rate, preventing us from suffering from chronic diseases, helping us maintain a healthy BMI boosting our immune functions, etc. Did you know? Exercise is also good and beneficial for our mental health as well. In this article, we will learn about why exercise is good for our mental health.

Benefits of Exercise for our Mental Health:

As discussed below, exercise is a good source for better mental health and well-being.

Exercise as an Anti-stressor:

From brisk walks to heart-pounding cardio, engaging in moderate to intense physical activities significantly boosts endorphin production in our brains. Endorphins are chemicals that help relieve pain and reduce stress. Exercising enhances blood flow and oxygen delivery to the brain, which helps lower stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. For example, in a fight-or-flight situation, both adrenaline and cortisol peak as our body prepares to either confront the threat or flee from it. Engaging in physical activities reduces these stress hormones and promotes a sense of relaxation and well-being.

Read More: Understanding Stress: Types, Causes, and Coping Strategies

Exercise and Anxiety Management:

Research indicates that individuals with anxiety face a higher risk of premature mortality and cardiovascular disease. (Celano et al., 2016) Exercise helps individuals redirect their focus and alleviate symptoms of anxiety. As we already discussed, exercise increases endorphin levels, decreases cortisol levels, and promotes relaxation. Another study highlights that physical activity reduces the likelihood of individuals with anxiety disorder developing anxiety symptoms.

Compared to those with low physical activity levels, they are less likely to experience such symptoms. (Anderson & Shivakumar, 2013) Exercise aids in reducing muscle tension and also reducing the body’s contribution to anxiety. Furthermore, physical activity activates the frontal region of the brain and helps regulate the amygdala, which plays a crucial role in managing emotions. This contributes to improved emotional control and resilience.

Helps in Coping with Depression:

Participating in physical exercise helps alleviate the symptoms of Clinical Depression. Individuals, engaging in moderate-intensity exercise could be advantageous for depression and lead to an improved mood. Experiencing depression can result in a lack of energy, which may make individuals less inclined to engage in physical activity. However, consistent exercise practice can boost your mood if you’re depressed. Regular exercise is beneficial in any form. Research suggests that exercise can effectively treat mild to moderate depression, providing benefits similar to antidepressant medication but without side effects. (Xie et al. 2021)

Read More: Research Identifies Strong Link between Exercise and Lesser Symptoms of Depression

Exercise and Mood Enhancement:

Participating in exercise prompts the body and brain to release hormones and neurotransmitters. These chemicals positively influence mood, memory, energy levels, and overall sense of well-being. Exercise helps in endorphins stimulation, which can lead to the euphoric sensation known as the “runner’s high” commonly experienced by runners. Aerobic exercise includes jogging, swimming, brisk walking, and cycling and cardiovascular exercise has been shown to improve mood. Additionally, exercise stimulates neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, both of which play a vital role in mood regulation. Furthermore, exercise enhances our sleep regulation by stimulating serotonin production in the brain, leading to improved mood and calmness.

Read More: 10 Mood Boosters that are Absolutely Free

Enhancing Self-confidence and Self-esteem through Exercise:

Not everyone has self-confidence and good self-esteem by nature. However, exercise offers numerous advantages, including an increase in self-esteem. Research suggests that engaging in physical activity can enhance self-confidence and improve how we feel about ourselves. (Sani et al. 2016) Scientific experts agree that exercise has a beneficial effect on our self-esteem.

Another research recommends achieving physical fitness and good body image can cultivate self-esteem. Involving in exercise helps us to gain more positive thoughts and improve our confidence in our good abilities and physiques. Setting and achieving fitness goals, acquiring proficiency in a particular yoga pose, and completing challenging workouts foster a sense of accomplishment and pride, exercise ultimately cultivates self-confidence and improves self-esteem.

The Cognitive Benefits of Exercise:

Regular exercise has numerous positive effects on cognitive function. Neuroplasticity, a significant characteristic of the nervous system, allows it to adapt and change in response to experiences. As a result, physical activity can be seen as a positive environmental factor that fosters neuroplasticity. Exercise also fosters memory and thinking skills. Numerous studies indicate that individuals who engage in regular exercise have larger brain volumes in regions responsible for cognition and memory skills. This is compared to those who are not involved in physical activity.

Dr. McGinnis highlights that participating in a consistent exercise routine of moderate intensity for six months to a year is linked with an expansion of specific areas. Exercising also enhances executive functions such as problem-solving and decision-making. It also helps in cognitive flexibility, attention control, and goal-directed behaviour and reduces cognitive decline. It aids individuals by faster processing speed and that is associated with better overall brain health and cognitive performance.

Sleep and Exercise are closely intertwined:

According to research, adults who engaged in at least 30 minutes of exercise daily sleep approximately 15 minutes longer on average compared to those who did not involved in exercise. Physical activity can contribute to alleviating sleep disorders like insomnia, diurnal somnolence and sleep apnea. Aerobic exercise contributes to deep sleep and also elevates the body’s requirement for sleep. Intensive physical activity can enhance your homeostatic sleep urge, reducing the likelihood of experiencing difficulty falling asleep while lying awake in bed. Exercise also promotes a healthy circadian rhythm.

Read More: Psychologists Speak on How much sleep we actually need

Exercise provides so many benefits including handling stress, anxiety and depression management, enhancing mood, promoting good sleep and preventing sleep disorders, better self-esteem and confidence and cultivating more cognitive benefits. Exercise is crucial for promoting mental health and overall well-being. By incorporating physical activity into our lives to uplift our spirits and lives. Let’s grab the water bottle, and lace up the sneakers to travel on a journey with wonderful mental and physical health.

References +
  • Anderson, E. H., & Shivakumar, G. (2013). Effects of exercise and physical activity on anxiety. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 4. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2013.00027
  • Sani, S. H. Z., Fathirezaie, Z., Brand, S., Pühse, U., Holsboer-Trachsler, E., Gerber, M., & Talepasand, S. (2016). Physical activity and self-esteem: testing direct and indirect relationships associated with psychological and physical mechanisms. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, Volume 12, 2617–2625. https://doi.org/10.2147/ndt.s116811Research suggests that engaging in physical activity can enhance self-confidence and improve how we feel about ourselves.
  • Celano, C. M., Daunis, D. J., Lokko, H. N., Campbell, K. A., & Huffman, J. C. (2016). Anxiety disorders and cardiovascular disease. Current Psychiatry Reports/Current Psychiatry Reports, 18(11). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11920-016-0739-5
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  • Depression and anxiety: Exercise eases symptoms. (2023, December 23). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/depression-and-exercise/art-20046495
  • Exercise and stress: Get moving to manage stress. (2022, August 3). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/exercise-and-stress/art-20044469
  • Exercising for better sleep. (2021, August 8). Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/exercising-for-better-sleep
  • Healthdirect Australia. Exercise and mental health. Healthdirect. https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/exercise-and-mental-health
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  • User, N. (2023, September 4). 7 Ways Exercise Improves Self-Esteem. Curves. https://www.curves.com/blog/belong/7-ways-exercise-improves-self-esteem#:~:text=Exercise%20boosts%20confidence,shape%20they%20felt%20they%20were)

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