5 mental health benefits of exercise



The theme of this year’s World Mental Health Day is psychological first aid and the support people can provide to those in mental distress. So I wanted to talk a bit about the mental health benefits of exercise.

We tend to think of exercise as being a thing you do for your physical health. But the reason I exercise is more to do with the mental health benefits. The physical stuff is just a by-product.

Studies have shown that exercise can alleviate symptoms among the clinically depressed, and even if that’s not you, there is still plenty to gain. Move around and it will make you feel better, guaranteed. And if you need some help, or you don’t know where to start, please ask either here or on social media. I will help you if I can.

5 mental health benefits of exercise

  1. It makes you calmer and better able to deal with stress
    Exercise increases concentrations of norepinephrine, a chemical that can moderate the brain’s response to stress. When I do a really aggressive class like BodyCombat, I spend an hour punching the air and then I don’t want to punch anybody in real life. At least, a bit less often.
  2. It helps you feel more alive
    Which is better than the opposite. The feeling that you get after exercise is what makes it worth it. As buzzes go, it’s a cracker.
  3. It makes you smile even if you don’t want to
    It’s kind of weird when this happens, but sometimes in an exercise class I will find that there’s a smile on my face that I have no memory of having consciously put there. This is because exercise releases endorphins, which create feelings of happiness and euphoria. We could all use a few more of those.
  4. It gives your mind a break
    When your mind is really whirring with everything that’s going on, wouldn’t it be good to have an off switch? This is what exercise, or any physical task can do. If you are doing something physically challenging, then your brain doesn’t really have any choice but to fully concentrate on the task in hand. There is no mental space left when you have to give 100% to running or lifting weights or whatever you’re doing. Your mental concentration has to shift to your body, and in doing so it gives whatever you usually focus on a break.
  5. It’s good for self esteem
    Because you are taking time to look after yourself, and no one else. Of course, the irony of that is that you will be better equipped to look after whoever else you need to once you have taken care of yourself for a bit.


When you don’t feel like exercising

I’m talking here about going to exercise classes because that’s what I like to do. It may not be what you like to do. You might be a runner or a dog walker or somebody who likes to dance round your bedroom to Spotify playlists. It doesn’t matter so much what you do, as the fact that you do it.

Also, remember that you don’t have to want to do it, you just have to do it.

I often don’t feel like going to the gym, but I still go. Wanting to do it, and actually doing it are two separate things – one is a mental attitude and the other is a physical action. But weirdly, it’s when you take the physical action, that’s when you feel the mental benefits.

Have you ever felt the mental health benefits of exercise? How else can we give psychological first aid? Please leave a comment for #WorldMentalHealthDay

Fitness 4 Mamas
  • Margaret Gallagher

    Positivity and seeing the good even in the worst scenario
    Takes practice but really does work

    • That is a really good point Margaret. Often it doesn’t come naturally and you have to force yourself to really focus on what is good about a scenario, but it really helps to change that perspective.

      • Margaret Gallagher

        It takes loads of practice but coupled with exercise and a general focus for your day -it works wonders

  • exercising always help! 🙂 I know that yet, still its hard for me to find time for i! I need to change that!

    • I think that once you find the exercise you like, then it becomes much easier to find the time to do it. Until then, there is always dancing in front of Youtube videos, that still counts.

  • I suffer from anxiety and panic attacks and I’ve had various courses of CBT. Sometimes when it’s bad, a long slow walk really does help clear my head. Fab post!


    • Absolutely right Becca, there is nothing like a walk, it really does work wonders. Thank you so much for commenting.

  • Mirka Moore

    A great post Joanne! I cannot imagine living without my exercise routines. When my dad was diagnosed with cancer, I was releasing all the stress through exercise. Thanks for linking #FitnessTuesday

    • Wow, that’s really inspiring to hear that it helped you in a time of stress Mirka. Thanks again for running the linky, I love discovering other fitness posts.

  • Sarah D

    great post – I find exercise is so good for clearing my mind or the general day to day clutter. I always feel refreshed

    • Yes, you never feel worse afterwards do you? This is what keeps me going back.

  • Susie Hawes at This Is Me Now

    This is a great post and so true. I was never into sport at school and didn’t like it. It’s only when I got to uni and joined a gym that I found the power of exercise. It’s a great stress buster, makes me feel so much better and sleep better too. In turn sleeping better makes me feel better the next day. I now regularly go to exercise classes and have also found going with a friend is a great way to make you go. Before kids I was more of a gym goer and runner, but now I’m into spinning/insanity and swimming with my friend. I’ve just written a post about feeling anxious and anxiety for world mental health day and should have added the importance of doing exercise. #sharingthebloglove

    • Thanks so much for your thoughtful and inspirational comment Susie. I think school sports have so much to answer for in putting people off exercising for life. So glad you have rediscovered it.

  • You’ve just described the whole reason why I exercise – I hate the thought of doing it, but I love the feeling when I’m doing it and the buzz afterwards. I often find it very hard to shut off the thoughts in my head, but exercise forces me to do that in a way that nothing else does. Thanks so much for joining us at #SharingtheBlogLove

    • Thank you too Katy. Yes, it’s the feeling afterwards that makes it all worthwhile, isn’t it?

  • Laura @dearbearandbeany

    It’s amazing the buzz that exercise gives you, I wish you could bottle it! I really need to get back into exercise as it definitely does make a difference to my state of mind. Thank you for joining us at #SharingtheBlogLove X

    • Thank you for having me Laura! I wish we could bottle it too, would save a lot of time.

  • Rebecca Farrelly

    Really important points as I rarely feel like I want to exercise or workout but the feeling I get when I do, is amazing! I feel so much better and happier, like I have achieved something! Its really important not only for us physically but mentally to exercise 🙂