The mental health benefits of exercise



Since the late 1970’s, there has been an increase in research into the relationship between exercise and mental health. Generally speaking, the established trend since this particular area of health has been explored and become more accepted in society to discuss, has been one of a positive relationship. It is well documented that exercise has many physical benefits and it comes as no surprise from following the research that there are also mental health benefits.


The changes that occur when you exercise start at the microscopic level. The release of endorphins and serotonin in your brain (often referred to as the “feel-good” chemicals) is often increased or promoted, meaning there are more circulating. More of these means more feel-good! When we have had a decent bout of exercise we can often sleep better too, and who doesn’t feel better generally after a good night’s sleep? This is because sleep is the time your body and brain are able to restore your systems so you are ready to go the following day. Your energy levels tend to be better when exercising consistently too.



The sense of achievement and accomplishment that is associated with exercise is also well documented in research. Setting an achievable goal (sometimes taking a little trial and error) can be so rewarding and can make you feel really positive about the experience itself and the hours afterwards. Exercise is often something we can do together and share the experience of whatever it is you and your group enjoy - be it walking, running, swimming, hiking, weight training etc. The social connection we can experience helps to strengthen our own values and self belief, whilst building stronger relationships with those around us.


Does the type of exercise matter?


Well no, in a sense, any exercise is better than no exercise and more exercise tends to be better than some exercise. What is more likely to be of value and help you achieve the greatest benefits from exercise from a mental health perspective appears to be the intensity and the consistency, indeed “vigorous” levels of exercise are commonly noted as being of more benefit. The way your body adapts though is over time so consistency and progression is key. If we look at just a few types of exercise and the research;

  • Running was examined in a 1979 study and was shown to improve mood in participants

  • Resistance training was shown in a 2017 meta-analysis to significantly improve anxiety in participants

  • Pilates was shown in a 2018 meta-analysis to have positive impacts on depression



Whilst there are many, many studies showing that there are mental health benefits from exercise, it should be noted that for exercise to be maximally effective it should be individualised and catered to you as a person. This is where professional guidance from a Physiotherapist, Exercise Physiologist or Qualified Trainer/Coach can be of benefit.


Book an appointment with one of our experienced Physiotherapists to discuss a personalised exercise program to reach your health goals.


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