What does exercise do for our mental health?

What does exercise do for our mental health?

We all know that being physically active is great for our health. It keeps our bodies fit and healthy, helps us to fight off diseases including coronary heart disease, diabetes and cancer. However, it also has a positive effect on our mental health. 

Exercise, even in its smallest quantities, can help our mental health including stress, anxiety and mild depression. 


Your brain chemistry changes through the release of endorphins, those ‘feel good’ hormones. This can lift your mood and reduce feelings of anxiety

Helps our bodies to better control our cortisol levels, which will help us feel less stress and tension

Clearer thinking. Some people find that exercise helps to break up racing thoughts. As your body tires so does your mind, leaving you calmer and better able to think clearly

A greater sense of calm. Simply taking time out to exercise can give you space to think things over and help your mind feel calmer

There are other benefits, which come with exercise. 

You will feel increased self-esteem. When your fitness levels improve and you start to see changes to your body, it can give your self-esteem a big boost. 

The sense of achievement you get from learning new skills and achieving your goals can also help you feel better about yourself and lift your mood. Improved self-esteem also has a protective effect that increases life satisfaction and can make you more resilient to feeling stressed.

Reduced risk of depression. If you are more active there is good evidence to suggest that at most ages, for both men and women, there is a trend towards lower rates of depression. In fact one study has found that by increasing your activity levels from doing nothing to exercising at least three times a week, you can reduce your risk of depression by almost 20%. 

Making friends and connecting with people is good for our mental health. You may find that the social benefits are just as important as the physical ones. 

Having fun. Lots of us enjoy being active because it is fun. Researchers have shown that there is a link between the things we enjoy doing and improvements in our wellbeing overall. If you enjoy an activity, you are also more likely to keep doing it. 

‘I have battled with my mental health for many years. I had a low sense of self-worth, lost all my friends and had no confidence at all. I found my anxiety was starting to spiral and I really needed to do something about it. I had read that exercise would help but I simply did not have the energy to do anything about it. I really was stuck in a vicious circle. Then I made the big step of trying a session at my local leisure centre. I have never looked back. I feel so much better in myself, I have made some great friends and am so proud of myself for how far I have come’. Nikki, 36.

Exercise means different things to different people. For some, it is about a daily walk with the dog around the park. For others it involves weights, running and a lot of sweating. 

The truth is; it does not matter what you do to keep active, as long as you do something!