Exercise And Mental Health: Whats The Connection And Does It Effect Me?

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Exercise And Mental Health


More often, we emphasize the importance of exercises on physical health. However, we hardly figure out the benefits of exercise on our mental well-being. The reality is that there is a close connection between mental health and physical activity. Exercise means more than just developing that lean muscle. The benefits of exercise extend beyond trimming your waistline, improving your physique and weight loss. Some of the benefits of exercise on mental health include:

Fighting depression


Exercises can help battle depression. Studies have confirmed that exercises can treat both moderate and mild depression. In fact, the effectiveness of exercise on mental health is as good as using an anti-depressant. It is the only depression remedy that comes with no side effects. According to a study done by the University College of London, exercises or any other physical activity can reduce the risk of depression by 20%. Another study carried out by the Australian research team established that about 12% of all the depression cases can be eliminated by participating in a one-hour exercise every week

For several reasons, exercise is a powerful depression remedy. It does this by facilitating various changes in the brain including reducing inflammation, neural growth, and promotion of new activity patterns. Physical activities also help to release various endorphins (powerful chemicals in the brain that help to enhance your spirits and make you feel better.) Exercises are like distractions that give you a quiet time allowing you to focus and break the harmful rhythm of thoughts that fuel depression.

It relieves tension and stress

When you’re stressed up, your muscles become tensed particularly in the neck, face and even shoulders. Other problems such as heartburn, diarrhoea, and frequent urination are more likely to occur whenever you’re stressed up. Exercises bring about mindfulness enabling you to focus on your body and feel better. This can help to interrupt the flow of worries and interferes with the vicious cycle between your body and mind.


Additionally, exercises play a crucial role in reducing stress by promoting the production of a chemical called Norepinephrine. The compound is vital in moderating the response of the brain to stress by promoting your concentration level. It frees your mind from various problems that hang around it. Besides, any form of physical activity can improve your ability to manage an existing mental tension.

Exercises sharpen the brain 

The best way to unstuck yourself when in a challenging condition is to engage in some exercises. Several studies have revealed that the mind and the body are two connected organs. One tends to control the other. Your physical behavior depicts what is going on in your mind. Whenever you exercise, the rate of blood circulation increases significantly and the heart will pump more blood to the brain. This translates to a clearer mind as all the bad thoughts are cleared off your brain. In such a state you can enjoy a boosted memory.

​It boosts your self-confidence


Your success is always determined by how confident you are. Whenever you believe in yourself, you can achieve a lot. We all know that life is a mind game. The more you feel better about yourself, the healthier you become. By engaging in any form of physical activity, you boost your self-confidence and even develop both physically and mentally.

It curbs dementia and cognitive function decline

Memory loss is the major symptom of dementia and is common in old people. Reduced levels of concentration and attention signal a decline in cognitive function. Various studies have confirmed that physical activity is a significant remedy to dementia. In fact, exercises can lower your risk of depression by up to 20-30%.

​How to exercise for mental health

Knowing the benefits of health for the mind is one thing, understanding how to exercise is the other. By knowing the type of exercises and finding the environment to exercise, you can make physical activity part of your life and even reap maximum health benefits. Experts recommend 2.5 hours of moderate exercise per week (30 minutes five times per week.) Some of the exercises that you can engage to improve mental health include:



This is ideal if you want to embrace a more dynamic way of exercising. Yoga refers to gentle movements, poses and breathing techniques that are very soothing to both the body and mind. The poses can make you get in touch with yourself by allowing you to connect with your breath and body. Unlike other forms of exercises, yoga has also been found to help bring a mind-body connection. When doing yoga, begin by engaging in slower pace classes before moving to the more vigorous and active ones.

Yoga helps to stimulate the production of neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) that helps to ease the symptoms of depression. It also increases the amounts of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This is a protein that helps to promote brain plasticity and trigger the formation of new brain cells. Some of the recommended yoga poses for mental health include:

Corpse Pose


Savasana or corpse pose is an easy-to-do yoga that is also hard to master. It works out the spirit, mind, and body. It channels all the energies inwards allowing you to gain more control over other external factors that influence your body. It calms your inner bliss thus enabling you to explore your self-awareness.

Easy Pose


This effectively manages symptoms of depression and promotes internal healing. It involves sitting on the ground or mat with legs stretched out then each leg bent at the knee. It is an excellent option for practicing meditation. It relaxes the body and brain. Easy pose is best done during the early morning on an empty stomach.

Reclined Angle Pose


This pose is good for releasing anxiety and stress in various body parts such as the hips, thighs, back, chest and groin. It evokes the feelings of inner self thus providing an ideal remedy for nervousness and anxiety.

Legs up the wall pose


This pose is beneficial in relieving anxiety, regulating blood circulation and management of blood pressure. It restores tiredness in the legs and feet. The pose is pretty simple to do.

Eagle Pose


This helps to foster an eagle-eye focus technique. It manages anxiety and stress. Eagle pose is vital for the torso hips, thighs, and shoulders.



Swimming is a non-weight, low impact exercise that helps to bring a mental boost. Incorporating ten-minutes of swimming into your workout plan every day can significantly transform your mental health. Swimming boosts blood flow to the brain thus improving mood, clarity, focus, and memory. Studies have shown that by immersing yourself in water, you increase blood flow by 14%. It doesn’t matter the depth of the water.

Swimming also stimulates brain chemicals thus promoting your overall mood. It helps to release neurotrophic factors in the brain which support a positive mood. Swimming techniques such as strokes, breathing and repetitiveness have meditative effects that help to reduce feelings of panic and sadness.


This is the most natural and affordable form of exercise that anyone can do. It doesn’t have to be a long and straining walk. Just focus on moving your body effortlessly and enjoyable. Start by putting small achievable goals. As you take a walk, try to get time to think and reflect.


Walking also helps you to feel stronger, happier and more energetic. It improves your overall life and enjoyment in life. Walking regularly not only benefits the brain but also improves balance, coordination, diabetes and reduce the chances of cancer.

The good thing about walking is that it can be done by people of all ages and fitness levels. However, before walking, you can consider stretching and warming up. Warming up before taking a walk can help to stimulate blood and allow proper circulation. A light sweat is an indication that your body is warm and ready for a walk.

Stretching eases muscle pain and aches. It also promotes flexibility and prevents injuries. Stretching doesn’t have to be painful. Some of the best stretches include:

  • Calf ​
  • Quadriceps
  •  Hamstring
  •  Shoulder stretch  
  • Triceps


A bike can help grow your brain the same way it builds your muscles. Cycling does more than just working out your legs. It reduces the risk of depression and other mental illnesses. 

When you ride regularly, you put your circadian rhythm in sync which helps to lower cortisol levels. It also improves your sleep cycles and affects the brain positively. It eventually translates to better sleep. Instead of driving, go for a bike ride. Riding boosts your productivity, creative thinking and makes you feel good.


Cycling also makes you feel happy. It has also been known to treat ADHD, improved physique, slows brain ageing, and cognitive function. The good thing about pedalling is that once you start, you get motivated to continue cycling.

Scientists recommend that 30-60 minutes of a steady bike ride at a good pace can help you enjoy a right healthy balance. Start by taking three-five sessions every week. Furthermore, when you cycle in social groups, you reduce the chances of being depressed. This is because as you cycle, you get time to socialize, talk, and laugh. This helps to eliminate the problem of boredom which can pave the way for depression.

Cycling also improves blood flow into the brain the same way it flows to the muscles. This consequently brings in more oxygen and other vital nutrients that can help to improve overall brain function.


Dancing brings happiness. Whether you prefer dancing at aerobic classes or weddings, dancing comes with lots of physical and mental health benefits. By losing yourself into the moves and swings, the activity can take you to the top of the world. Apart from improving posture, strengthening bones and muscle strength, dancing can significantly reduce stress. Through dancing, you use your body to express your emotions and feelings. Additionally, dancing also stimulates the release of mood-elevating chemicals and hormones that are beneficial for the brain.


High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

HIIT helps to fight off symptoms of anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, stress, and depression. HIIT doesn’t have to be very long if you’re considering doing it vigorously. A 30-minute HIIT exercise can bring the same fitness benefits as a 150-minute cardio workout.

Some of the best HIIT exercises you can engage in include jumping jacks, crunches, wall sits, step ups, squats, lunges, and pushups. The other form of exercise that people give a side-eye is the elliptical machine workout. While it may sound unexciting and ineffective, an elliptical workout can raise your heart rate even more than a treadmill.

To reap maximum health benefits from an elliptical machine workout, start by coming up with a plan before you step on that machine. The handles of your device should help you work out your entire body. Try adopting a routine and stick to it. After every five-minute interval, you can increase your resistance steadily.

HIIT workouts should be done the first thing in the morning. However, with time you can switch things up and even do them in the evening. These workouts may not be easy to complete, especially during those first hectic days. It requires a lot of motivation if you want to keep yourself going. In addition, if you want to enjoy more benefits, try to keep away all kinds of distractions whether that be from electronics or your surroundings. 

High Intensity workouts can brighten up your mood and make you feel good throughout the day. High interval training is an excellent remedy and an excellent addition to your mental health treatment strategy.


Exercises have a strong connection with mental health. Issues such as depression, stress, anxiety, cognitive decline, dementia, tension, and low self-esteem can be treated by engaging in a workout. Exercise can help improve mental health in various ways. Physical activities such as HIIT, walking, swimming, dancing, yoga, cycling among others can help you overcome different mental problems. Whether you prefer aerobic or anaerobic exercises, they are all beneficial not only for the body but for the mind as well. They reduce anxiety, promote better sleep, improve self-confidence, boost happy chemicals and enhance blood flow

  • Sandra says:

    The benefits of exercises to the human mental health can never be overemphasized. I’m sure it helps elderly people who tend to suffer dementia as discussed above. But does it cure dementia?

    • Tom R says:

      Hey Sandra

      Thanks for your question, whilst I would estimate that someones mental health would be positively impacted by a safe detox routine, I could never claim it would cure dementia. I might look more into dementia and see If I can write an informative article.

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