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Benefits of exercise on mental health

Being active and getting your body moving can have a real impact on your mental health. Whether you’re experiencing low mood, stress or anxiety, being physically active can help you to feel better and clear your mind from disruptive thoughts. 

In this article we’ll share how exercise can positively impact your wellbeing and how you can get started with becoming more active and improve your mood. 

How does exercise help mental health? 

It can improve your sleep

Tired of trying to count the sheep racing around your head? Sometimes your worries and state of mind can keep you up at night, the good news is that exercise could help you to get a restful sleep as physical activity can leave you feeling more tired and ready to sleep at the end of the day. There are a number of reasons why physical activity can improve your sleep, including:

  • It increases your body temperature which can create a calming effect on your mind.
  • It can regulate your circadian rhythm (this is your body’s natural ‘clock’ which helps to control when you feel awake and when you feel tired).   

Whilst working out can seriously help you to get some shut eye, it’s not advised that you exercise too late in the day as this can make your body feel more alert. Why not try and take a morning walk for a refreshing start to the day or break up your work routine by taking a stroll outside and getting some fresh air to reset your mind to take on the rest of the day’s challenges? 

It can relieve feelings of stress

Stress is something that we all feel from time to time, but some of us more than others. When you exercise, your heart rate increases and this stimulates the production of endorphins (chemicals in your brain which help to elevate your mood). The release of these hormones not only help to improve your mood, they can also help you to think more clearly when responding to a stressful situation and working out can allow you to focus on something else. 

It can increase your self-esteem 

Working out can give you a real confidence boost when you improve your endurance and lose weight. Being active on a regular basis will help you to build up your confidence as you keep pushing yourself to hit new fitness goals and improve your physique. Whilst adjusting your lifestyle to be more active is challenging at first, you will soon get into the swing of things and you’ll feel great when you can finally run 5k with ease. 

It gives you more energy and improves your stamina

The idea that exercising more could give you more energy and be difficult to grasp, however, there are several ways in which working out helps you re-energise your body, including:

  • It boosts the oxygen circulation in your body and gets the heart pumping blood through your body faster. 
  • Your body learns to use your energy more efficiently, helping you to workout for longer as you become used to a more active lifestyle. 
  • It improves your muscle strength and flexibility. 

It reduces the risk of depression

Many studies have shown that by engaging in regular exercise, you can reduce the chances of experiencing a bout of depression - a feeling of low mood which can last for weeks or months at a time and can have a big impact on your day-to-day life. 

It can reduce levels of anxiety

There is evidence to suggest that being physically active reduces levels of anxiety in people who suffer from mild symptoms and it can be beneficial for those suffering from clinical anxiety. 

It helps you to think more clearly

Many studies have indicated that engaging in physical activities will boost your mental energy and allow you to think more clearly. Moreover, exercise can also help to strengthen your memory and prevent cognitive decline. 

How to start getting more active and improve your mental health

It’s recommended that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week (or 75 minutes of high-intensity activity). Examples of moderate intensity activities include brisk walking, cycling, dancing and hiking -why not ask a partner, friend or family to join you so you can motivate each other? Here’s some ways to ease into being more active to improve your emotional wellbeing:

Set some personal goals 

Your goals should be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timebound) to give yourself the best chance at achieving them. Start small (perhaps go for a short walk during your lunchtime or join a class with likeminded people who share the same goal to improve their fitness). We’re all individuals and different activities will suit our personal preferences. 

Read our blog on how to get fit for beginners for some simple workout inspiration.

Keep track of your progress 

You could try to keep a diary and log all the activities you’ve been doing throughout the week and make a note of how this impacted your frame of mind and how it made you feel. This way, you can see how exercise is impacting your mental health and ensure you stay on the right path. Getting started with exercising is one thing, maintaining a healthier lifestyle is another. Why not read our blog on how to motivate yourself to workout for tips on sticking to a workout routine? 

Celebrate each success 

Any step forward, whether you feel it’s big or small, is well worth celebrating. Taking the time to appreciate yourself and recognise your achievements is a great way to stay motivated, here are a few ways you can celebrate your exercise milestones:

  • Pamper yourself and take some time to relax (for example, you could take a hot bath!)
  • Buy some new workout gear
  • Take a trip with a friend, partner or family member

It can be a good idea to try and match the reward to the size of the goal so that you can appreciate the smaller treats but look forward to bigger rewards after putting in more time and effort. 

Final thoughts

Exercise has a multitude of benefits for your mental health and can really help to boost your mood. Not only this, it has a number of benefits for your physical health too which helps you to live a happier and healthier lifestyle. 

Many people find that exercising has a positive effect on their health, but if you’re experiencing feelings of low mood or anxiety, it might be worth speaking to a health professional who can advise on whether any other treatments could be combined with regular exercise to improve your wellbeing. 

Looking to get active to improve your wellbeing?


If you live in Dorset and you’re looking for some motivation or help in getting more active to improve your wellbeing, we can help!


You can register with us today or get in touch with our friendly team to find out more about how we can help. With our professional advisors and coaches on hand to support you, you can start enjoying a healthier lifestyle. 


"In January 2019, I was five stone heavier. Now, with the weight loss, parkrun and netball, my anxiety has improved tenfold."

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