Fitness for the Mind: Benefits of Exercise for Mental Wellness

We all know that exercise is great for our mental health, yet on those days where we are feeling low or stressed, exercise can often feel like the last thing we want to do. This blog will serve as a reminder and a motivator to get out there and move our bodies. We will discuss the science behind some of the many benefits of exercise and its power in creating mental wealth. 

An essential aspect of our overall well-being, mental health is like a lens, it can make us see the world as either a dark or a light place, it can make something seem funny, or offensive, exciting or dull. Mental health is not the absence of mental illness; it’s about experiencing positive emotions, having good self-esteem, and coping effectively with life’s challenges.

How does exercise help to improve our Mental Health?

The Biological Benefits:

Exercise isn’t just about breaking a sweat, it’s about producing a chemical change in your body. When you exercise, your brain releases endorphins, natural mood lifters. Furthermore, exercise can reduce stress hormones like cortisol, helping to create a calmer mental state. 

Neurotransmitter Regulation:

Neurotransmitters are chemicals that help our nerves communicate. Exercises can help balance our neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which are key players in regulating mood. By engaging in regular exercise you are supporting your brain’s ability to maintain a stable emotional state.

Stress Reduction:

One of the most evident benefits of exercise is stress reduction. When you exercise, the body releases tension and anxiety. This makes it easier for you to relax post-exercises and provides a powerful coping mechanism for daily stressors. 

Improved Sleep:

Quality sleep is crucial for mental health, and exercise can play a significant role in improving it. Regular exercise helps improve our sleep patterns by altering our chemical/hormonal balance. 

Enhanced Self-esteem:

Exercise isn’t just about physical activity, it’s about personal growth. When we exercise and achieve fitness goals we feel powerful and confident, this can help foster a more positive self-image.

Social Interaction:

The social interaction that often comes with exercise can combat feelings of isolation and provide a sense of support and belonging. 

When might we experience the benefits of exercise on our Mental Health?

Short-Term Changes:

  • Immediate mood enhancement due to release of endorphins.
  • Stress reduction and anxiety relief after a single exercise session. 
  • Improved focus and cognitive function.
  • Enhanced self-esteem and self-confidence through a sense of accomplishment.
  • Social interaction during group activities can alleviate feelings of isolation. 
  • Relaxation and improved sleep after exercising. 


Long-Term Changes:

  • Better regulation of neurotransmitters and more stable moods.
  • Reduction in chronic stress and anxiety leading to better over mental well-being.
  • Development of resilience and improved ability to cope with life challenges.
  • Lower risk of mental health conditions like depression or anxiety. 


What steps could I take to help me create an exercise routine?

Set clear goals:

Define what it is that you want to achieve with your exercise routine. Whether its stress reduction, weight management, or enhanced mood, having clear goals will help keep you motivated and give you direction. 

Choose activities you enjoy:

There are many forms of exercise, find exercise that you genuinely enjoy. It could be anything from brisk walks, yoga, team sport, or learning a skill like a handstand. Enjoying the activity will make it easier to stick to your routine. 

Start slow:

If you’re new to exercise or that form of exercise, begin with shorter sessions and gradually increase the duration and intensity as your fitness improves. This approach will prevent burnout and injuries. 

Schedule regular times:

Whether it’s morning, during lunch or after work, setting a specific time can help create a routine. 


Finding ways to keep yourself on track will help your consistency. It may be writing in a calendar, using goals or best, exercising with a friend or family member. It’s a common trend that many people who start exercising eventually stop after a few months, don’t be that guy. 

Track your progress: 

Keep a record of your exercise and how it makes you feel. Monitor any physical or mental changes. This can serve as a source of motivation and allow you to see your improvements over time.

Be flexible:

Life can be unpredictable and there may be days when your routine is disrupted. It’s okay to adapt and be flexible with your exercise routine.  

Consult a professional: 

If you don’t know where or how to start, consider seeing a professional. Physiotherapists or exercise physiologists can be a great resource especially if managing injuries. 

How much exercise should I do?

When it comes to how much exercise, the World Health Organization (WHO) has recommendations that can be followed to ensure adequate physical activity is being met (refer to infographic). Exercise can be many different things from running, gym training, walking the dog or even playing. Try to think about the intensity of the exercise to meet WHO guidelines, if you’re walking the dog, consider periods of higher intensity walking, etc. 

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Mac Edwards
Bachelor of Physiotherapy, AHPRA, APAM

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