Exercise has many benefits on physical and mental health wellbeing. Whether you have a mental health condition or are simply having a bad day, a few minutes of physical activity stimulates those feel-good chemicals and can have a positive impact on your mood.
Depression and anxiety are common mental health conditions. Negative feelings, isolation and emotional ups and downs are some of the more general symptoms, and these vary in severity from person to person. Developing a regular exercise plan can help you manage these symptoms and improve your physical health too.
How does exercise benefit health and wellbeing?
There are multiple benefits to having a regular exercise routine. When doing something active the brain releases endorphins and serotonin that can have immediate short-term effects on brain health. Regular, habitual exercise may have longer-term effects.
Physical activity can be used as a treatment on its own or in combination with medications, or psychological or talk therapy to help reduce some of the symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress.
- Reduced short-term feelings of anxiety
- Improved mood and emotions
- Improved sleep quality
- Increased attention, emotion control and focus
- Reduced long-term feelings of anxiety
- Weight loss - promotes a positive body image and lifts self-esteem and self-worth
- Sleep - deeper sleep, reduced daytime fatigue and reliance on sleep medication
- Reduced risk of heart conditions, stroke, obesity and diabetes
- Better memory recall, sustained attention, problem solving, decision making and emotional self-regulation
- Strengthen bones and muscles
What exercise can I do to improve my mental wellbeing?
Exercise is anything that gets your body moving using muscles and expending energy. It is recommended that you do 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity and strength training, the two main groups of exercise. This can be broken down to just 30 minutes daily over a 5 day week. Your activity can also be done all at once or in smaller chunks of time over the day. Find a balance that works for you.
Be kind to yourself, start slowly and gradually increase your physical activity as you get stronger. Setting a goal and developing a plan can help you feel in control of your routine and enable you to maintain it even when you are feeling down.
Choose activities that you enjoy, have friends and family join you or attend a social exercise class to keep you motivated. There are multiple activities that are free or fee-based including these suggestions to get you started:
- Go for a walk, run or bike ride outdoors
- Go for a swim at the beach or public pool
- Choose a sport you enjoy and join a team
- Go to the gym
- Attend yoga and meditation classes
- Visit a shopping centre or the local markets
- Use public workout equipment
- Check out local community centres for any exercise classes
- Start slow and build up your exercise routine as you get fitter and stronger
- Choose physical activities that you enjoy
- Have a balance of moderate-intensity aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercises
- Include social and team based activities to keep you motivated
- Carek PJ, Laibstain SE, Carek SM. Exercise for the treatment of depression and anxiety. Int J Psychiatry Med. 2011;41(1):15-28. doi:10.2190/PM.41.1.c.
- Paluska SA, Schwenk TL. Physical activity and mental health: current concepts. Sports Med. 2000;29(3):167-180. doi:10.2165/00007256-200029030-00003.
- Saeed SA, Cunningham K, Bloch RM. Depression and Anxiety Disorders: Benefits of Exercise, Yoga, and Meditation. Am Fam Physician. 2019;99(10):620-627.
- Health Direct. Exercise and mental health. November, 2019. Available at: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/exercise-and-mental-health. [Accessed October 23, 2020].
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Physical activity basics. How much physical activity do adults need? October 7, 2020. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/. [Accessed October 23, 2020].
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Physical activity basics. Benefits of physical activity. October 7, 2020. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/pa-health/index.htm. [Accessed October 23, 2020].
- Health.gov. Physical activity guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition. 2018. Available at: https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-09/Physical_Activity_Guidelines_2nd_edition.pdf#page=31 [Accessed October 23, 2020].
- Mental Health Foundation UK. How to look after your mental health using exercise. November, 2015. Available at: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/how-to-using-exercise [Accessed October 23, 2020].
- Mental Health Foundation NZ. Getting active to beat depression. Staying active will help you through it. Available at: https://www.mentalhealth.org.nz/assets/ResourceFinder/FS-11-Getting-active.pdf [Accessed October 23, 2020].
- Sharp Brains. What are cognitive abilities and skills, and can we boost them? Available at: https://sharpbrains.com/what-are-cognitive-abilities/ [Accessed October 23, 2020].