Working Out Works Wonders For Your Mind

We all know the importance of physical exercise in maintaining overall health. But what about its effects on our mental health? Have you ever heard of the “feel good” effect of physical exercise, or perhaps a “runner’s high”?

It turns out there’s scientific evidence to back this up. Physical exercise has been shown to increase positive moods, increase your sense of wellbeing and sleep quality. It’s also been shown to decrease negative outcomes such as depression, anxiety and stress levels. In fact, physical exercise is often recommended to people diagnosed with clinical depression. It’s been shown to treat depression just as well as antidepressants do, with longer lasting effects, and in some cases has helped treat depression when medication has failed. So there’s a chance that if you’ve been feeling particularly stressed out or anxious about something, getting some exercise may help decrease those negative feelings!


What constitutes as “physical exercise”?

It doesn’t have to mean going to the gym or running. It covers a wide range of activities, including team sports like football and cricket, classes like yoga, self-defence and water aerobics, and individual activities like swimming, hiking, and cycling. Physical exercise is also used to refer to more day-today activities like gardening and walking. Regardless of what type of exercise you’re doing, simply engaging in that exercise goes a long way to improving your mental health and wellbeing.

So why does physical exercise affect our mental health? There are several possible answers:

Exercise helps to metabolise the hormones that are released when you stress, in effect undoing the effects of stress.

Exercise can act as a distraction against negative thoughts.

Exercising with other people increases social interaction.

Research shows that exercising releases endorphins, which are the chemicals in your brain that make you feel pleasure. The same chemicals are released when you laugh. Whatever the reason, physical exercise clearly does have a positive impact on our mental health.

Given the important role physical exercise plays in maintaining our wellbeing, it seems like a good thing to start doing. But if you’re worried that you need to completely change your lifestyle to reap the mental health benefits of physical exercise, have no fear! Even simple changes can be effective. Here are some tips:

  • It is recommended by health professionals that you exercise 30 minutes a day. Try splitting it into 5 minute intervals throughout the day when you need a break or pick-me-up.
  • If you don’t enjoy exercise try combining activities you enjoy (like listening to music or going to the beach) with exercise. Save your favourite TV show so you can only watch it while on the cross trainer at the gym.
  • Staying seated for long periods of time can actually be a symptom of depression. Try using an alarm on your phone or computer to remind yourself to get up and walk around every so often.
  • Being outside and getting fresh air can help improve how you’re feeling. If you’re not in a great mood, go for a brisk walk outside and see how you feel. Even 5 minutes can help.
  • If you’re struggling to find the motivation to exercise for a long time, don’t worry! A short, intense workout can be more beneficial than a longer, less intense one. Aim for 15-20 minutes to improve your mood.

Want to learn more?

In person: Your GP or an exercise physiologist who are degree-qualified allied health specialists. We recommend the services of Apollis based in North Parramatta who have both exercise physiologists and personal trainers who can help you develop a program. They also have group classes.


Download: Runkeeper app, the Map My Walk app

Read: Exercise for Mood and Anxiety: Proven Strategies for Overcoming Depression and Enhancing Wellbeing by Michael W. Otto and Jasper A.J. Smits.

written by Suji Varathalingam and Melissa Harries

2 Comments - Leave a Comment
  • Jack Mulligan -

    I didn’t know that exercise had such an amazingly positive effect on your mood! I suffer from clinical depression and it can make it hard to be remotely positive sometimes. If exercise is right I’ll have to work that into my routine and see how it helps.

    • Melissa -

      Hi Jack, there was a research paper released recently saying that mindful meditation (30 mins) combined with a nice walk (30 mins) twice a week had a positive impact on mood. Certainly worth testing it out!

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