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  • Josh Sands

Exercising your Way to Better Mental Health

When you think of exercise you may automatically think of weight loss, muscle gain, and getting fitter, but often neglected are the mental benefits of exercise. Exercise can have a huge impact on your mental health and the way you think and feel each day.

Studies have shown that exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, negative mood and improving self-esteem and cognitive function. Exercise has also been found to alleviate low self-esteem and social withdrawal.

Exercise can help bring you into the present moment and help quieten all the stresses and worries in your life, people often refer to running as their own type of meditation, it’s their way of clearing their mind, brainstorming or practising gratitude. Living in the present moment will help reduce anxiety as you are not focused on the past or the future, so you will be a lot more relaxed, less worried, and more focused for the task at hand.

There are many neurotransmitters in our brain that determine how we think and feel about certain situations. Exercise helps activate them, which triggers the release of helpful chemicals throughout the body which not only helps you get through the exercise but improves general mood. These chemicals include dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin and adrenaline. The release of all these chemicals and many other benefits of exercise is why exercise is a great way to boost mental health.

How often

The NHS recommends 150 hours of moderate intensity exercise per week for 19–64-year-olds. That can be split into 30 minutes of exercise, 5 days a week. If you're going from no exercise or very little exercise a week, starting small and gradually building up to 150 minutes can be the best way to get started and stay consistent, even a 10-minute brisk walk can help you calm your mind and feel more relaxed.

Where to start

Finding an activity you find fun is one of the best ways to get exercise in without feeling like you are forcing yourself to do it. For example, finding a sport you love can be a great way to escape everyday life as you are focused on the present moment, and less likely to see exercise as a chore. Sports are also a great way to make new friends and bond over similar interests. This can be important as social interaction can also help boost mental health, increase motivation, and sharing your goals, experiences and achievements will help keep you focused and enthusiastic.

If sport is not your thing, why not try something more calming like yoga. Yoga is great for mental health as it teaches you to take notice of how you and your body feels. Yoga also has several physical benefits.

Exercising through barriers

Exercise may sound great when reading this but there are going to be days where exercise is the last thing you want to do. Here are some ways to deal with certain barriers.

Feeling tired - When you're tired, busy or stressed it may seem that working out will make you feel worse. Exercise is a powerful way to increase energy levels and reduce fatigue. If you've been sitting at your desk all day, even a 5 minute walk or stretch can help you recharge and change your mindset. Committing to just 5 minutes of movement is a great way to start and chances are once you've started you'll feeling like going for longer

Feeling unmotivated - If you're feeling unmotivated or feeling like exercise right now is not worth the effort, focusing on the benefits of exercise and your reason why, will change your perspective on exercise. Feeling unmotivated can happen alot in life and you may not know why you feel it, being in a growth mindset is very powerful and fighting through the feeling of resistance this time will help build mental discipline, and the more you do this the easier it will be to do things you don't feel like doing. This doesn't just work for exercise it will make the harder decisions easier in all areas of your life. So seeing every workout as a chance to grow your discipline alongside your mental health is so beneficial.

Feeling overwhelmed - Feeling overwhelmed can come from thinking into the future. For example, you have a training plan for a half marathon but instead of focusing on today's workouts you're worried about how you're going to achieve that long run you have to do next week and the week after. Focusing on today or this week and setting small daily goals is the best way to reduce feeling overwhelmed and get a clear picture in your head of what's to come in the short term.


  1. Callaghan P.. Exercise: a neglected intervention in mental health care? J Psychiatr Ment Health Nurs. 2004;11:476–483.

2. Sharma A, Madaan V, Petty FD. Exercise for mental health. Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry. 2006;8(2):106.


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