Improving our mental health with exercise

By Laura Bendall, Online Fitness Trainer


So, why ‘physical’ activities for ‘mental’ health?

Are you trapped in a vicious cycle: too tired to exercise, too low to cheer up?

Physical activity is really all about sitting down less and making sure you move more! The list of what we can do is endless. Achieving a basic level of physical activity is going for a walk, putting the music on, and dancing or cleaning the house. You could increase the intensity by going for a swim, taking part in a group class session, going for a jog, cycling, skipping. 

But all too often we may feel just too tired, too unhappy, too low, too sad to do this. 

But this means we may be trapped in a vicious cycle – low levels of exerci

se, leading to feeling tired or anxious? But some simple changes to our daily activity can help. Instead of driving to the shops or to work, why not walk or ride a bike? Taking the stairs instead of getting in a lift is an easy way to get your heart rate up.

Anything that raises our heart rate, makes us breathe harder, and gets our heart rate up is classed as exercise. It is recommended that an average adult should participate in 75-150 minutes of exercise a week. That’s two hours a week!


So, why is exercise so important for our mental health?

There is a significant increase in the number of people suffering from poor mental health all over the world. That is understandable with everything that is going on. But there is a lot we can personally do to try and get our mental health on track, and this involves the amazing benefits of exercise.

After advice has been sought from your doctor, we highly recommend taking regular exercise as a way of increasing our self-care. You don’t need to set a daily exercise regime that seems exhausting just thinking about it! Taking a day off from exercise every week by reading a book, taking a nice bath, having a face mask, watching your favourite film, or catching up with friends and family, are all important activities for self-care. But exercise will really help improve your mood and your mental health if you add that into the mix of self-care activities.

Exercise helps improve our mental health in so many ways:

Improves our mood - Exercise has a big impact on changing our moods especially if we start the session with a low mood. When we have finished exercising, we will likely feel calmer and even have a burst of energy. This is due to the release of endorphins which are ‘feel-good’ hormones.

Improves our sleep – It has been proven that taking exercise really helps improves our sleep. When we have exercised during the day and created and used up energy, we will feel tired later in the day, helping us fall to sleep and stay asleep. 

In recent studies, participants who exercised reported that their sleep quality improved, raising their diagnosis from poor to good sleeper. They also reported fewer depressive symptoms, more vitality, and less sleepiness in the daytime.

Improves our self-esteem - Exercise helps boost our self-esteem by helping us feel better about ourselves. When we start feeling stronger, feeling fitter, noticing body changes, meeting our goals – all these achievements help boost our confidence.  

Maybe you were once out of breath after walking up two flights of stairs but now you can do four flights easily? There is no greater boost than acknowledging this progress.

Making new connections - If you decide to take part in group exercise whether in person or via online sessions, you are guaranteed to meet new people. 

The person you are standing next to in a class or commenting on their progress on social media could also be experiencing poor mental health or social isolation. 

It's a perfect opportunity for us to make new connections and chat with like-minded people. You never know; they could turn into lifelong friends.

Reduce depression, anxiety, or stress – Research has shown that people who suffer from depression, anxiety, or stress have found exercise beneficial for improving their mental health. 

There are several reasons for this. 

Exercise is a great distraction and the concentration needed can be useful for taking our minds off our worries. Besides, exercise decreases the stress hormones that negatively affect our mood and increases our happiness hormones. Some people may choose to use exercise solely to help manage their depression, and some people use exercise and medication together.

If you are suffering over a period of time with low mood, depression, or anxiety, we would recommend always speaking to your doctor or seeking professional help. Ask if increasing your exercise may be beneficial for you.

I am a firm believer that exercise is beneficial for those suffering from poor mental health. If you are new to exercise, start off slowly, maybe start with a brisk 10 - 15-minute walk. Exercise is so good for the mind and the body.


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Laura Bendall

Laura is a qualified personal trainer and online fitness coach.

Contact Laura