8 Reasons Why Regular Exercise Helps With Mental Health Issues

April 16, 2018 5 min read
8 Reasons Why Regular Exercise Helps With Mental Health Issues

Physical exercise as a means of improving mental health? You better believe it. A lot of evidence suggests that physical activity, regardless of the shape you are in, can do wonders to reduce stress and anxiety, and improve self-worth.


Mental health is a serious matter, yet many people still find it difficult to talk about their mental issues, much less deal with them effectively. It is thus quite refreshing that elite, high profile athletes like DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love are speaking out openly about their mental health.

The fact that even the fittest, most well-compensated athletes in the world can suffer from mental health issues underscores the enormity of this problem, as well as the pressing need to address it at every level possible. Inroads, though, are continuously being made, among them the increased accessibility of mental health specialists and support groups. One avenue undoubtedly worth exploring more is the role of regular exercise in easing the burden of mental health sufferers, as there is mounting evidence that physical activity is good for the mind.

basketball in darkness mental health

Here are 8 things we do know about the link between regular exercise and mental health:

1. Regular exercise improves your overall mood.

Mayo Clinic states that regular exercise releases feel-good endorphins like endogenous cannabinoids(cannabis-like brain chemicals) which enhance your sense of well-being, thus improving your mood and making you feel good.

2. It de-stresses you.

Regular exercise deflects your attention away from your worries and problems, and this can be quite liberating. You get to break free, even for just an hour or two a day, from that vicious cycle of negative thoughts and emotions which feed depression and anxiety.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America underscores this very same fact, noting that exercise is "also considered vital for maintaining mental fitness, and it can reduce stress." The ADAA also informs that participating in aerobic exercises can decrease overall levels of tension and elevate and stabilize mood. In fact, just five minutes of aerobic exercise is enough to stimulate anti-anxiety effects.

3. It makes you breathe.

Breathing exercises can help you cope with anxiety as they “help people relax, feel more balanced, and less stressed.” A gym session requires some deep, rhythmic breathing, too, which is part of what makes lifting iron therapeutic to many.

Ten cycles of this breathing exercise, for instance, will work wonders: Sit up straight and rest your hands on your lap. Breathe in for the count of four and hold the breath for 1–2 seconds. Then breathe out for 4 seconds and hold the breath for another 1–2 seconds. The importance of breathing exercises to alleviate stress is highlighted by Very Well Mind which points out that such exercises are "simple, effective, and convenient way to relieve stress and reverse your stress response." This is the reason why weightlifters often say that lifting weights is therapeutic for them.

4. It helps you get some much-needed sleep.

One manifestation of stress is a difficulty in sleeping, with worries and problems continually bombarding your mind. Sleep, though, becomes less of an issue when you exercise, as people who get the recommended 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity a week improve their sleep quality by at least 65%. This improvement means fewer sleep disruptions which “wreak havoc in the brain,” as explained by Harvard Health. Specifically, these disruptions impair, among others, thinking and emotional regulation.

social sports

5. It lets you socialize.

There is mounting evidence that people who socialize enjoy better mental health, as interacting with others can boost well-being and decrease depression. To this end, exercising with others affords an individual various opportunities to interact with others, as in running with one’s circle of friends or taking the same yoga class or HITT session. A University of Minnesota study has even found a causal link between the social aspect of exercising and its possible benefits in improving mental health.

6. It makes you feel good physically.

According to Professor Arthur Kramer, both the body and brain must be optimum health, and regular exercise makes that possible. Simply put, frequently exercising keeps you physically fit and healthy, and this state of optimum fitness has a profound effect on your mental health, too. As the saying goes, "a healthy body leads to a healthy mind."

7. It breaks the monotony of life.

Think of exercise as your timeout from life's daily struggles. Such timeouts, according to Dr. Robert J. Kriegel, can help decrease stress. Dr. Kriegel emphasizes taking short breaks every now and then, and one of his recommendations is an end-of-the-day jog. You can even take things a bit further by incorporating training sessions into your routine two to three times a week. As an added bonus, these timeouts will increase your energy and provide new insights and perspectives.

8. It gives you confidence.

Part of any exercise program is goal setting, and the more of these goals you achieve, the more confidence you will gain. This is important because loss of self-worth can lead to anxiety and depression, which is why gaining confidence in oneself is vital.  In fact, merely seeing the results of your program—bigger biceps, for instance, or a slimmer waistline—can enhance your self-belief, which in turn can improve your mental well-being, too. A University of Florida study supports this: suggesting that all types of exercise help people feel good about their bodies. Whether they are fit or unfit, exercise will have a positive effect. This means that even without the noticeable gains mentioned above, those who exercise have enhanced levels of self-esteem, empowering them to better combat stress.

Now, the elephant in the room: If exercise can, indeed, help combat stress, as discussed here, then why do DeRozan and Love, the two high-profile athletes mentioned at the start of this article, still suffer from mental health issues? DeRozan might have the answer to that: “It’s one of them things that no matter how indestructible we look like we are, we’re all human at the end of the day.” Or as Love says matter-of-factly, "Everyone is going through something." In other words, we all have our "demons." We all struggle with something sometimes, and there will be times when despite our very best efforts, the difficulties of life will still get in the way.

Ultimately, it is up to us to make sure that we deal with mental health issues as best as we can, and as this list proves, there are some simple and accessible ways to improve one’s mental health. Exercise is not a cure-all by any means, but they are a good start for mental health issues.

Next steps…

If you are someone who struggles with mentalhealth issues or chronic disease that prevents you from engaging in exercise, you should find a therapist or doctor to come up with a personalized action plan. Here are some tips on how to find a doctor or therapist in Singapore. You can also speak to a doctor online on RingMD from wherever you are (just click the button below).

Our world-class online doctors can provide you with medical advice, and depending on where you are, they may also be able to write you a medical certificate and online prescription. You have a right to deal with your pain. We’re working to make sure everyone takes health and wellness more seriously, and everyone gets the care they need.

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