How Does Exercise Improve Mental Health

How Does Exercise Improve Mental Health

How Does Exercise Improve Mental Health

Exercise has long been known to be beneficial for physical health such as improving body composition, managing chronic conditions and treating acute injuries however the mental health benefits of exercise are often overlooked. With many lifestyle stressors such as financial issues, increase work hours, it is common for people to experience symptoms of anxiety, depression and stress throughout their life. However, exercise has been shown to have a positive impact on mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and stress.

The link between exercise and mental health has been extensively studied and there is growing evidence to suggest exercise physiology has a significant improvement on mental health. Exercise can help to reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and stress and can also help to improve mood and overall well being.

The Everyday Benefits Exercise Provides

Increased Energy

Exercise regularly can help to increase energy levels which can be particularly helpful for those who struggle with depression and anxiety or other mental health problems that can lead to fatigue and reduced ability to complete work postexercise one can experience a surge of energy which can help to improve your mood and overall well being.

Improved Sleep

Regular exercise can help to improve sleep which can be particularly helpful for those who struggle with stress and other mental health conditions that disrupt sleep. Sleep furthermore helps the body in recovery after strength and conditioning, support brain development, cardiac function and body metabolism, as well as provide enough energy to complete activities of daily living.

The Reason Why Exercise Makes Us Feel Better, Mentally!

Endorphin Hypothesis

When an individual exercises, there are chemical processes that occur in the brain that promote feelings of calmness, euphoria and improved mood. The brain releases a chemical called endorphin, which helps the body to adapt with levels of stress. Researchers suggest this release of endorphins during exercise provides positive changes on mood and depression levels.

Thermogenic Hypothesis

A recent study (Mikkensen et al 2017) reported that an increase in body temperature as a result of exercise contributes to a reduction in symptoms of anxiety. It was stated that an increase in body temperature, particularly in the brainstem, can be a significant factor in reducing muscular tension and increased mood. Furthermore it promotes all kinds of changes in the brain including neural growth, reduced inflammation, and new brain activity patterns. Additionally it also releases endorphins.

Mitochondrial Function

The mitochondria has an important role of maintaining cell and tissue function as well as energy production and synaptic strength and cellular resilience of circuits in the brain. It has been discussed that poor mental health and chronic stress can occur from poor neuroplasticity which results in an ability to respond and adapt to stress. This further creates structural impairment in certain regions of the brain. However exercise and physical activity has shown to increase mitochondriogenesis- An increase in mitochondrial numbers and enhanced function.


mTOR is a protein which controls cell growth and metabolism and is associated with learning memory in antidepressant effects. Therefore it is very important in improving cognitive function and mental health. According to a study (Mikkensen et al 2017), exercise activates this protein to improve and adapt to cognition and emotional behaviours. This has shown improvements in mental health issues including stress, anxiety and depression.


While exercise provides many physical benefits, it is now being considered as a period of meditation and distraction which contributes to better mental health. Furthermore the ability to complete an exercise session can increase one’s self efficacy- the ability to reach a goal. Using exercise as a tool to increase self-efficacy is linked to improving self-esteem, improving quality of life and reducing depressive symptoms.

Incorporating Exercise Physiology

Exercise Physiology

Exercise Physiology is a great tool to manage mental health conditions. While we have focused on anxiety, stress, and depression there is evidence to suggest the exercise has positive outcomes on mental health conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar and PTSD. An accredited Exercise Physiologist can incorporate exercise routine into your daily life to help manage your symptoms and improve your overall well being. As always, it is important to talk to your health care provider before starting any new exercise program.

If you are interested in starting exercise Physiology to manage a mental health condition, you can book in for an initial consultation here.


Mikkelsen, K., Stojanovska, L., Polenakovic, M., Bosevski, M., & Apostolopoulos, V. (2017). Exercise and mental health. Maturitas, 106, 48-56.