The Importance of Exercise to Mental Health


You are hard pressed to turn on a television, listen to the radio, or check out anything online without seeing ads extolling the importance of exercise and diet to daily living and physical health. The ads often promote the idea that you should eat well and exercise to lose weight and look good on the outside.


What is new though is that exercise is crucial to maintaining good mental health. Many studies have now linked exercise as a tool to managing depression, anxiety and stress.


When you are under stress or are depressed and anxious your body is in a perpetual state of ‘flight or fright’. Your body releases many hormones which in the longer term can be harmful to your health. They can cause elevated blood pressure, stomach problems and fatigue. 


Exercise can help to teach people how to breath (deeply and in a controlled manner) and can provide a physical outlet for stress and anxiety. The exercise causes the release of hormones like adrenaline and cortisol which raise your heart rate, and release glucose in order to give you instant energy. When you exercise regularly, these hormones can make you feel better instead of causing high blood pressure and illness.


Regular exercise also carries the benefits of improving balance, reducing weight and tension, and improving posture. All of these help to prevent falls and accidents from occurring in the first place and are thought to make recovery from accidents or illness easier and faster.


If you are suffering from mental health issues you should speak to your primary health care provider and seek guidance on what kind of exercise you should begin doing, for how long and how intensely. Many health care facilities have staff that will help you put together a plan to get moving and get healthy. It may be difficult to get started buy you will notice a difference within a few weeks in your stamina and health. The exercise will provide you with a new focus and being outdoors or at the gym will give you a new routine to follow.


The Canadian Mental Health Association has the following information on their website:

Exercise has many psychological benefits. For example:

  • Physical activity is increasingly becoming part of the prescription for the treatment of depression and anxiety. Exercise alone is not a cure, but it does have a positive impact.

  • Research has found that regular physical activity appears as effective as psychotherapy for treating mild to moderate depression. Therapists also report that patients who exercise regularly simply feel better and are less likely to overeat or abuse alcohol and drugs.

  • Exercise can reduce anxiety. Many studies have come to this conclusion. People who exercise report feeling less stressed or nervous. Even five minutes of aerobic exercise (exercise which requires oxygen, such as a step class, swimming, walking) can stimulate anti-anxiety effects.

  • Physical exercise helps to counteract the withdrawal, inactivity and feelings of hopelessness that characterize depression. Studies show that both aerobic and anaerobic exercise (exercise which does not require oxygen, such as weightlifting) have anti-depressive effects.

  • Moods such as tension, fatigue, anger and vigor are all positively affected by exercise.

  • Exercising can improve the way you perceive your physical condition, athletic abilities and body image. Enhanced self-esteem is another benefit.

  • Last, but not least, exercise brings you into contact with other people in a non-clinical, positive environment. For the length of your walk or workout or aqua-fit class, you engage with people who share your interest in that activity.

Feel the Rush

We may not realize what caused it, but most of us have felt it. Whether we’re engaged in a leisurely swim or an adrenaline-charged rock climb, there is that moment when suddenly pain or discomfort drops away and we are filled with a sense of euphoria.

We have endorphins to thank for these moments of bliss. Endorphins are chemicals produced in the brain, which bind to neuro-receptors to give relief from pain.

Discovered in 1975, the role of endorphins is still being studied. They are believed to: relieve pain; enhance the immune system; reduce stress; and delay the aging process. Exercise stimulates the release of endorphins, sending these depression-fighting, contentment-building chemicals throughout the body. No wonder we feel good after a workout or brisk walk!

Endorphin release varies from person to person; some people will feel an endorphin rush, or second wind, after jogging for 10 minutes. Others will jog for half an hour before their second wind kicks in.

You don’t have to exercise vigorously to stimulate endorphin release: meditation, acupuncture, massage therapy, even eating spicy food or breathing deeply – these all cause your body to produce endorphins naturally.

So enjoy some moderate exercise and feel the endorphin rush!



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