The Link Between Exercise and Mental Health

6 July 2022

The Link Between Exercise and Mental Health

A group of women wearing pink T-shirts are on a gentle jog outside.

 

There is a wealth of evidence that physical activity helps people to manage their weight, increases energy levels, supports recovery from illness and improves sleep. In addition, recent research suggests that physical activity boosts mood levels.

Depression is the fourth most serious disease worldwide, with an estimated 350 million people affected. Exercise has been shown to improve mood and decrease symptoms of depression in some cases, but it's often overlooked as an option.

 

What does exercise have to do with your mood?

When we exercise, we produce a cocktail of hormones which contribute to making us feel good. Endorphins are produced at a certain higher intensity of activity, but the mood-boosting effects of exercise are felt at a much lower levels.

Exercise increases the “good feelings” while reducing the “bad ones”. A single dose of exercise can improve your mood for several hours. With a regular regimen, these benefits build-up over the weeks.

 

You Don’t Have To Exercise Like An Athlete To Benefit

If your primary aim is to improve your mood, the target for what counts as exercise is far lower than it is for weight loss or fitness gains. This is especially relevant if you are new to exercising because you are recovering from a bout of ill health.

We have perhaps become programmed to think about exercise in terms of physical health benefits – that to get something out of it, we have to get sweaty or tire ourselves out and this can be off-putting, especially if our mood is low. But even walking for five minutes a day as a starting point can be a mood lifter.

 

The Best Form Of Exercise For Anxiety Is One You'll Actually DO

Aerobic exercise (such as jogging, running, swimming or other cardio) has been shown to be effective at relieving anxiety.

When any movement will bring benefits, the best activity is one you like to do – whether that’s swimming, team sports, Tai Chi or dancing. Individual preference really is the key driver in the mood-boosting benefits.

A couple in their 50s walking in the forest, hand-in-hand, the man has a walking stick.

 

Make Exercise Part of Your Lifestyle

The most effective exercise programmes are those that you can maintain. In other words, it's about the sustainability.

Making activity a lifestyle, combining regular exercise and everyday movement can reduce anxiety and depression, will prevent their onset and regulates our natural fluctuations of mood.

When we’re trying to get in shape, it's easy to get discouraged, especially if we used to be more active before we suffered from an illness. We might be unsure about exercising, or maybe we’ve had bad experiences in the past. It's also possible that we don't have much time for exercise—or maybe we just don't know how to fit it into our schedule.

But there are plenty of ways you can work-out that are fun and effective. Try combining exercise with socializing, time spent outdoors, or music.

 

What if I have mobility issues, or a disability?

Walking can be a great way to improve your health, especially if you have mobility issues. If you want to get started with walking, start slow and work your way up to longer stretches of time spent on your feet. You can also try walking outside instead of in the gym or on a treadmill. Even if your mobility is limited and you need a wheelchair or walker, there are still plenty of ways to get out there and move around.