Exercise to Improve Mental Health

Exercise to Improve Mental Health

June 14, 2024

estimated read time - 19 min

Mental health profoundly influences our daily lives, impacting everything from our emotions and relationships to productivity and quality of life. Challenges like stress, anxiety, depression, and mood swings can hinder our ability to thrive and enjoy life fully. However, incorporating exercise into our routines can be a game-changer. By prioritizing exercise, we empower ourselves to take proactive steps toward a healthier mind and a more fulfilling life.


Why is Exercise Good for Mental Health

Meditating Under a Tree

Meditating Under a Tree


"A healthy mind resides in a healthy body."

- John Locke

The mind and body are intricately connected, each profoundly influencing the other. By prioritizing our physical health, we also significantly support our mental well-being.

Physical activity is more than just building strength and endurance; it's a powerful tool for mental health enhancement. Exercise releases endorphins, natural mood lifters that reduce stress and anxiety while promoting a sense of well-being. Similarly, nourishing our bodies with wholesome foods fuels our physical vitality, cognitive function, and emotional stability.

Incorporating regular physical activity into your daily routine not only strengthens your body but also boosts mental resilience, fosters a positive outlook, and helps manage stress and anxiety. Prioritizing both mental and physical health leads to a balanced and healthier lifestyle.

How Does Exercise Improve Mental Health

Exercise improves mental health by stimulating the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which regulate mood and emotions. It also increases blood flow to the brain, nourishing brain cells and promoting neural growth. Additionally, physical activity reduces inflammation in the body, which has been linked to depression and anxiety. Overall, exercise contributes to a healthier mind by reducing symptoms of mental health conditions, improving overall well-being, and enhancing resilience to stress.

Benefits of Exercise for Mental Health

Exercise has numerous benefits for mental health.

  • Reduction of anxiety and stress

  • Improve Mood

  • Enhance Cognitive Function

  • Better Sleep

  • Increase Self-Esteem and Confidence

  • Social Interaction

  • Distraction from Negative Thoughts

  • Improve Resilience

  • Increase Energy Levels

  • Promotes Healthy Behaviors

Types of Exercise to Improve Mental Health

Old Couple Meditating in the Park

Old Couple Meditating in the Park

Exercise can be done mentally or physically and both may help improve mental health.

Mental Exercises To Improve Mental Health

These exercises refer to activities or practices that stimulate and challenge the brain, promoting cognitive function, mental agility, and overall brain health.

  • Mindfulness Meditation: mindfulness meditation helps you focus on the present moment, reduce stress, and increase your self-awareness.

  • Guided Imagery: a relaxation technique that involves using the imagination to create calming and peaceful mental images. It is often used in meditation, mindfulness practices, and therapeutic interventions to help reduce stress, anxiety, and promote overall well-being.

  • Journaling: write a journal regularly to express your thoughts and feelings. Gain insights into emotions, and track progress and goals.

  • Gratitude Practice: Take time each day to write down or reflect on things you are grateful for, bringing up a positive outlook and reducing negative thoughts.

  • Creative Activities: Engaging in creative activities like painting, writing, music, or crafting helps express emotions, reduce stress, and foster a sense of accomplishment.

  • Learning New Skills: Challenge yourself to learn new skills or hobbies. It helps stimulate the mind, boosting confidence, and providing a sense of achievement.

  • Social Connections: Stay connected with friends, family, and supportive communities to build relationships, share experiences, and receive emotional support.

Physical Exercises To Improve Mental Health

Below are some types of physical exercises specifically beneficial for mental health:

  • Deep Breathing Exercises: Take some time each day for deep breathing exercises. This simple practice calms the mind, reduces anxiety, and promotes relaxation, helping you feel more grounded and centered.

  • Setting Boundaries: Remember to set healthy boundaries in your relationships and work-life balance. By prioritizing self-care and reducing stress through clear boundaries, you can maintain your mental well-being and overall happiness.

  • Aerobic Exercises: Aerobic exercises such as brisk walking, jogging, or dancing may help increase your heart rate and oxygen flow, boosting your mood, reducing anxiety, and enhancing cognitive function.

  • Strength Training: Whether using weights, resistance bands, or bodyweight exercises, building muscle strength not only improves your posture but also enhances self-esteem and body image, contributing to a positive mindset.

  • Yoga: Doing yoga regularly improves flexibility, reduces stress, and promotes relaxation. Combining physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation, yoga enhances mindfulness, leading to better mental clarity and emotional balance.

  • Pilates: Focused on core strength, flexibility, and body awareness, Pilates can improve posture, reduce stress, and boost overall physical and mental well-being.

  • Tai Chi:  Tai Chi is a gentle martial art that promotes relaxation, balance, and mental focus. Its slow, flowing movements and deep breathing techniques are particularly effective in reducing stress and anxiety.

  • Dance: Incorporate dancing into your life, whether in structured classes or freestyle. Dancing not only improves cardiovascular fitness and coordination but also boosts mood, reduces stress, and enhances self-confidence.

  • Outdoor Activities: Make time for outdoor activities like hiking, gardening, or playing sports. Being in nature, exposed to sunlight and fresh air, can significantly improve your mood and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.

  • Mindful Walking: Practice mindful walking in nature or during walking meditations. Focus on each step, your breathing, and sensory experiences, which promotes relaxation, reduces stress, and fosters a sense of connection with your environment.

  • Group Exercise Classes: Group fitness classes like yoga, pilates, zumba, or spinning provide social support, motivation, and a sense of community, all of which contribute positively to your mental well-being.

  • Interval Training: Consider incorporating high-intensity interval training (HIIT) into your workouts. Alternating between short bursts of intense exercise and recovery periods can improve your cardiovascular fitness, boost mood, and increase energy levels.

Exercises For Mental Disorders

Woman Jogging in the Mountains

Woman Jogging in the Mountains


Exercises for Depression

Aerobic activities like jogging, cycling, or swimming for at least 30 minutes can boost endorphins, lifting your mood. Additionally, try yoga or tai chi to foster relaxation and mindfulness. Poses like the warrior or tree pose can aid in reducing depressive symptoms. Don't forget that strength training can enhance your overall well-being and self-esteem.

Exercises for Anxiety

Engage in activities like brisk walking or dancing to elevate your heart rate, easing anxiety. Practice deep breathing exercises such as deep diaphragmatic and alternate nostril breathing to calm your nervous system. Consider mindfulness meditation and guided imagery to reduce stress, fostering a sense of calmness.

Exercises for Stress

Participate in activities such as cycling, swimming, or aerobics to reduce stress hormones and alleviate stress. Mind-body practices like yoga, tai chi, or qigong enhance relaxation and resilience to stress. Spending time outdoors in natural settings can also lower cortisol levels and uplift your mood.

Exercises for Sleep Disorders

Improve your sleep quality by engaging in gentle activities such as walking, gentle yoga, or stretching. Avoid overstimulating the body before bedtime. Instead, practice relaxation techniques like progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, or deep breathing exercises to induce a state of relaxation conducive to better sleep. Consistency in exercising at the same time each day can help regulate your sleep-wake cycle.

Exercises for ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder)

Participating in activities like martial arts, dance classes, or rock climbing can enhance concentration and impulse control. Heavy cardio in the morning is also exceptional for people who struggle with ADHD. Involvement in sports or activities demanding coordination can boost cognitive function, aiding in the management of hyperactivity and impulsivity. Mindfulness-based exercises are also effective in improving attention span and emotional regulation.

Exercises for PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder)

Try mindful practices, aerobic activities, and group engagements to reduce hyperarousal, manage anxiety, improve mood regulation, foster social support, and promote emotional healing in individuals with PTSD.

Exercises for Bipolar Disorder

Consistently engaging in exercises like walking, gentle yoga, or tai chi can stabilize mood, promote emotional balance, and support physical health without exacerbating manic episodes. Mindfulness-based practices may also help in emotional regulation and self-awareness.

Incorporating Exercise Into Your Daily Routine

Mom Exercising in the Living Room with Daughter

Mom Exercising in the Living Room with Daughter

How Much Exercise To Improve Mental Health

The amount of exercise needed to improve mental health varies depending on individual factors such as fitness level, age, and health conditions. Generally, guidelines recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week, spread out over several days. This could include activities like brisk walking, cycling, or swimming. Additionally, incorporating strength training exercises at least two days a week can further enhance mental well-being. However, any amount of physical activity, even in shorter bursts, can provide mental health benefits such as reduced stress, improved mood, and better cognitive function.

Common Barriers To Exercise

Common barriers to exercise include lack of time due to busy schedules, fatigue, and low motivation. Physical limitations like injuries or chronic pain, and lack of access to facilities or equipment, also pose challenges but are often not the real cause. Cost, lack of knowledge about proper exercise, and self-consciousness about working out in public can also discourage people. Environmental factors such as bad weather or unsafe neighborhoods, prioritizing other activities, family obligations, psychological barriers like depression, and lack of social support further hinder maintaining a regular exercise routine.

How To Overcome Barriers To Exercise

Overcoming barriers to exercise can be challenging, but with the right strategies, it is possible. One way is to start with short 10-15 minute sessions and gradually increase them. Set realistic goals that you can achieve to stay motivated and avoid feeling overwhelmed. If you have a busy schedule, planning short sessions and integrating activities into your daily life can be effective. Try exercising when you feel most energized to combat fatigue. Choose enjoyable activities and group workouts for motivation. Address physical limitations with professional guidance and low-impact exercises. Use home workouts and public spaces for access issues.

Surround yourself with supportive friends or consider joining groups that offer accountability and encouragement. Lastly, be kind to yourself and know that every step towards regular exercise benefits your mental health and well-being.


Mental health profoundly impacts our daily lives. Challenges like stress, anxiety, and depression can stop us from enjoying life fully. However, incorporating exercise into our routines can be transformative. Physical activity has been scientifically proven to alleviate symptoms of mental health conditions, boost mood, reduce stress, improve sleep quality, and enhance overall well-being.

By prioritizing exercise, we empower ourselves to take proactive steps toward a healthier mind and a more fulfilling life. The mind-body connection is undeniable, and maintaining physical health directly contributes to mental wellness. Whether through aerobic exercises, strength training, mindfulness practices, or social activities, finding what resonates with us and incorporating it into our daily routines is key to achieving holistic well-being.

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