11 Ways Exercising Improves Mental Health

11 Ways Exercising Improves Mental Health

The effects of physical inactivity on mental health are significant. Inactivity can cause a host of cognitive problems such as poor memory and poor concentration while also decreasing levels of happiness and optimism. Exercising regularly offers many potential benefits which may counteract those negative feelings associated with inactivity. In fact, several studies suggest that exercise can be as effective for mental health as it is for physical fitness.

1. Exercise relieves stress and anxiety

Stress is an unavoidable part of life for most people, but building up a tolerance to it can help you avoid burnout. As well as increasing your ability to tolerate stress, exercise stimulates the production of endorphins in the brain – a chemical that acts as a natural painkiller and antidepressant. Physical activity also significantly reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol and boosts growth hormones, which are responsible for tissue repair and cell regeneration.


Exercising also helps to control anxiety, because it stimulates the production of neurotransmitters in the brain that promote relaxation. In fact, exercise is as effective for stress reduction as anti-anxiety medications, but without the associated side-effects.

2. Exercise raises self-esteem and improves mood

Exercise is an effective way to increase self-esteem and treat depression. People who exercise regularly tend to be more satisfied with their lives and have lower levels of perceived stress, and they feel better when they are physically active. This is because exercise increases levels of endorphins in the brain, which act as natural antidepressants.

Also, exercising regularly increases levels of neurotransmitters in the brain such as serotonin, which is responsible for positive moods and feelings of satisfaction. Exercise can therefore be an extremely effective way to improve your self-esteem and mood by changing the way you feel about yourself.

3. Exercise can help reduce tension and improve sleep quality

Low levels of exercise can actually cause pain – particularly in the lower back and neck – because these muscles need to be stretched or strengthened to cope with everyday activity. If you experience muscle pain, then you may well be doing too little exercise, or not stretching properly before and after exercising. Regular exercise is known to improve sleep quality because it regulates the body’s internal “body clock”. 


In the evening, a person’s body clock regulates their sleep-wake cycle by releasing hormones that give rise to feelings of drowsiness and a feeling of being tired. Exercising regularly delays this internal clock and creates the sensation of feeling rested, which can help you fall asleep at night more easily.

4. Exercise improves acuity and attention span

Physical activity improves acuity – the ability to process and formulate information – because it increases levels of brain chemicals such as dopamine, which are responsible for the way you learn and remember things. Exercise also improves attention span by increasing levels of the brain chemical norepinephrine, which has a positive effect on concentration.

Moreover, studies have shown that regular exercise leads to an increase in gray matter in the brain, which increases an ability to control impulses and focus on tasks.

5. Exercise can improve learning capacity

Studies have confirmed that exercising regularly can improve learning capacity and even reverse the effects of aging on the brain by increasing levels of neuromodulators such as acetylcholine, noradrenaline, dopamine, serotonin and glutamate. The ability to exercise is a skill which improves with practice and maintaining this skill can actively prevent age-related cognitive decline.


Our learning ability, which includes things such as our ability to learn new tasks, is linked to the development of new neurons and synapses in the brain. Regular exercise increases the number of neurons and dendrites in the hippocampus – an area of the brain responsible for memory.

7. Exercise can improve mental health after an illness or accident

Participating in regular physical activity has been shown to be beneficial for people who experience depression after a major illness or accident by reducing anxiety, stress, and pain even if you’re seeing a mental health therapist. This is because exercise has a restorative effect on the body and helps maintain a healthy lifestyle – one which is necessary for good mental health.

Often, illnesses and accidents lead to significant lifestyle changes such as a reduction in physical activity or housebound activities, and these can have a negative impact on mental health. By exercising regularly when you are ill, you can help prevent these kinds of lifestyle changes.

8. Exercise promotes the production of new brain cells

The hippocampus – a part of the brain involved in learning, memory, and emotion – has the ability to form new brain cells in adulthood. This process is called neurogenesis , and it occurs when certain chemicals are released by neurons (brain cells). These chemicals travel across synapses to other neurons or glial cells, where they stimulate them to make proteins such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF then activates certain genes that cause stem cells in the hippocampus to turn into new neurons.

Exercise stimulates the production of these neurotrophic factors through a process called aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise also stimulates the formation of new blood vessels that carry blood to the hippocampus, which protects it from injury.

9. Exercise helps you to deal with stressful days better

It’s no wonder people feel better after exercising – it actually makes your brain smarter. Exercise increases levels of glutamate, another neurotransmitter that plays an important role in learning and memory, as well as helping you to process and deal with stressful events.

Stressful situations can cause the excitatory neuron synapses in the prefrontal cortex to inhibit nerve cells that release glutamate. This inhibition slows down the brain’s ability to learn new information and retain memories. When you exercise, the body releases endorphins, which are neurotransmitters that block neurons from inhibiting glutamate release. This can help you deal with stressful situations by clearing up your mind so that you can concentrate on new information more easily.

10. Exercise can lead to better problem-solving abilities

The nervous system is divided into the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS). The CNS consists of all nerves in the brain and spinal cord, whereas the PNS is a network of nerves that runs throughout the rest of the body.

Problem Soving

Exercise stimulates neurotransmitter and neurotrophic factors in the CNS which contribute to improved signaling between nerve cells. This makes it easier to learn new tasks while promoting mental clarity. Regular exercise can also reduce anxiety, which helps you focus on solving problems more effectively.

11. Exercise helps to keep the brain healthy

Exercise is important for maintaining healthy brain activity and activity levels are a key factor in maintaining brain health. There are multiple ways in which exercise affects the brain, with some evidence suggesting that it may help prevent age-related atrophy and shrinkage of the brain.

Research shows that people who engage in regular physical activity tend to have a smaller total volume of gray matter than sedentary individuals, as well as significant reductions in volume in specific areas of the prefrontal cortex. These areas hold important functions such as controlling impulses, planning ahead and working memory.


Regular exercise helps to maintain brain health. It can protect you from age-related damage and cognitive decline, as well as stress. The good news is that you don’t have to be an athlete to reap the benefits of exercise – getting moving in moderation strengthens your body and improves your mood.

Let’s make it a goal of the month that you get more active by regularly exercising for 15 minutes daily – whether it’s on the treadmill, elliptical machine or going for a run in a park. Also, if you feel like your mental health is taking a dip, and exercise isn’t helping, you can consider opting for mental health services as well.