Mental Health Benefits of Exercise

The benefits of exercise extend beyond improving physical health. Exercise can help relieve anxiety and burn off stress. It can help lift depression. It can encourage a more positive outlook and boost self-esteem. Even 10 minutes of walking a day can help.

Regular exercise will help you enjoy a sense of wellbeing. Typically, regular exercise leads to both increased energy levels and better sleep. Moving your body helps you feel more alert and alive. Start where you are and find ways to add more movement to your life gradually.


Lighten your mood – Exercise releases endorphins, or feel-good chemicals, in your brain. Research indicates that regular aerobic exercise is as effective as antidepressants in reducing the symptoms of mild to moderate depression.

Reduce Stress – Exercise reduces stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. Moving your body can help you forget your problems and focus on the moment. Exercise improves sleep, which likewise tends to reduce stress.

Decrease Anxiety – Exercise can create a general pattern of calm in certain parts of the brain. Research has demonstrated the regular activity reduces anxiety.

Increase Alertness – Somewhat ironically, exercise is very effective at reducing fatigue. It improves alertness and concentration, and it enhances overall brain function. Increased activity also may help prevent age-related decline by stimulating the growth of new brain cells.

Improve Self-Esteem – Regular exercise gives you a sense of control in your life. You feel more self-confident and comfortable in your body.

Getting Started

Start gradually. Doing too much too soon will lead to discouragement. Begin with something you feel comfortable with and build progressively.

Choose activities you enjoy. It is going to be easier to continue doing things you enjoy. If you hate swimming, you will not stick with it no matter how many benefits it would bring. Walk, dance, play a sport. Do not despair if movement does not seem to appeal to you at all. Start with something simple and trust that it will grow on you.

Set realistic goals. Building muscle or losing weight are goals that can take months or more to achieve. Focusing on more easily attained goals, such as boosting your energy level, reducing stress or improving your mood, will help you see results quicker.

Make exercise a habit. One of the best things you can do for your physical and mental health is to make exercise a part of the pattern of your life. Most of what you do in your life you do by routine. Try adding small habits like taking the stairs or parking at the far end of the parking lot. Put exercise in your schedule.

Be nice to yourself. Instead of being your own worst critic, become a loving but firm coach. Do not compare yourself to others. Focus on the improvements you are making.

Do not give up. If you find that you have fallen into old ruts, do not get discouraged. Simply start again, as many times as you have to, and build up gradually.