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4 Benefits of Exercise for Mental Health

The benefits of exercise and daily movement are not a mystery to us. Many of us have even heard this almost all our lives. Today, people are making more intentional decisions about exercise and daily movement. Everyone wants to live and lead long and happy lives. In a post-pandemic world, many individuals desire holistic health and wellness. This blog will cover some of the mental health benefits of exercise and physical activity in our daily lives.

Exercise reduces symptoms of depression.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression is a common mental health disorder and affects approximately 5% of the global population (2021). Depression is a loss of positive affect (outward expression of emotions) often due to adverse life events like death, unemployment, etc. It manifests through different symptoms (loss of appetite, disrupted sleep, low energy, etc.) and has varying levels of severity. Typical treatment for depression is medication (usually an antidepressant) or psychological therapy. However, in some cases, exercise is used as an alternative treatment. According to research, in some mild to moderate cases, exercise can improve depressive symptoms as individuals with depression tend to have low levels of these neurotransmitters. In a study conducted on males, exercise, specifically endurance training, helped reduce symptoms of depression (Khorvash, Askari, Rafiemanzelat, Botshekan, and Khorvash, 2012). Another study on young women found that while there is a complicated relationship between perceived stress or depressive symptoms and exercise participation, exercise was effective in treating depressive symptoms (Hearst, Syed, Kurzer, and Schmitz, 2012).

Exercise reduces symptoms of anxiety.

Anxiety is one of the most common forms of mental illness in the United States, affecting approximately 19% of the population aged 18 and older (Anxiety and Depression Association of America, n.d.). Though there is a lack of extensive research linking exercise with a decreased likelihood of anxiety, existing research suggests a positive relationship between exercise and lowered anxiety levels (McDowell, Dishman, Gordon, and Herring, 2019). According to Smith and Merwin (2021), exercise (like high-intensity exercise) may improve an individual's ability to deal with negative affect because it helps the brain form new associations with sensations that occur during exercise that mimic anxiety.

Exercise reduces stress and improves mood states.

Stress is the body's reaction to taxing demands placed on it. Negative stress (or distress) is usually a feeling of emotional or physical tension. Improper stress management can lead to high blood pressure. High blood pressure can result in cardiovascular diseases like strokes, heart attacks, etc. Research suggests that exercise is an effective method of managing and reducing stress because it releases endorphins which can boost mood and alleviate feelings of emotional and physical tension.

Exercise improves self-concept and self-esteem.

Self-concept is a collection of beliefs about oneself. It is an important factor in mental well-being as it contributes to one's total self-esteem (confidence in one's worth and abilities). One study shows a positive correlation between self-esteem and physical self-concept in participants in a physical education class (Garn, McCaughtry, Martin, Shen, and Fahlman, 2012). According to Kim and Ahn (2021), participation in exercise led to "positive changes in the level of physical self-concept, self-esteem, and mental well-being of college students."

In summary, exercise is a cost-effective method of improving your mental health. Physical activity releases serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine which help with mood and emotions and can help enhance your well-being. Whether it is, pilates, a walk, or a sweaty high-intensity gym session, do something today for your mental well-being.


Anxiety and Depression Association of America (n.d.). Anxiety Disorders- Facts and Statistics. Retrieved from

Garn, A. C., McCaughtry, N., Martin, J., Shen, B., & Fahlman, M. (2012). A Basic Needs Theory investigation of adolescents' physical self-concept and global self-esteem. International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 10(4), 314-328.

Hearst, M. O., Syed, M., Kurzer, M. S., & Schmitz, K. H. (2012). Life events, perceived stress and depressive symptoms in a physical activity intervention with young adult women. Mental health and physical activity, 5(2), 148.

Khorvash, M., Askari, A., Rafiemanzelat, F., Botshekan, M., & Khorvash, F. (2012). An investigation on the effect of strength and endurance training on depression, anxiety, and C-reactive protein's inflammatory biomarker changes. Journal of Research in Medical Sciences : The Official Journal of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, 17(11), 1072-1076.

Kim, I., & Ahn, J. (2021). The Effect of Changes in Physical Self-Concept through Participation in Exercise on Changes in Self-Esteem and Mental Well-Being. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(10), 5224.

McDowell, C. P., Dishman, R. K., Gordon, B. R., & Herring, M. P. (2019). Physical Activity and Anxiety: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies. American journal of preventive medicine, 57(4), 545–556.

Ryu, Mi-Kyung, Lee, Ki-Pyo.(2018).The Relation Analysis among Physical Self-Concept, Self-esteem and Quality of Life in Participation Leisure Sport Old Adults.Korean Journal of Sports Science,27(2), 467-477.

Smith, P. J., & Merwin, R. M. (2021). The Role of Exercise in Management of Mental Health Disorders: An Integrative Review. Annual review of medicine, 72, 45.

World Health Organization (2021). Depression. Retrieved from


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