5 Ways Exercise Can Benefit Your Mental Health

It is well known that exercise benefits your physical health, but it can also improve your mental health in numerous ways.

Here are five ways that exercise promotes your mental and emotional well-being.


1. Improved Self-Esteem

A regular exercise routine may leave you feeling better about yourself.

In a 2014 study in Social Behavior & Personality, one group of female college students completed a 12-week exercise program, while another group served as a control.(1)

After the study, females in the exercise group had an increase in self-esteem according to the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale, whereas self-esteem did not change in the control group.

Similar effects have been found with men.

In 2014, researchers for the African Journal for Physical, Health Education, Recreation and Dance found that men who participated in weight training had significantly better self-perception than did untrained men.(2)


2. Impact on Anxiety

Exercise can improve mental health by reducing anxiety.

In a 2015 study in the Althea Medical Journal, an exercise group completed multiple 30-minute sessions of aerobic and anaerobic exercise over the course of five months, whereas a control group did not participate in any exercise program.(3)

After the study period, those in the exercise group had significantly lower anxiety levels than those in the control group, according to scores on the Zung Self-Rating Anxiety Scale.

Outdoor exercise can be especially helpful if you suffer from anxiety.

A 2010 study in the Psychology of Sport and Exercise found that outdoor exercise significantly reduced participants’ anxiety levels, with road cycling, boxercise, and mountain biking resulting in the greatest decreases in anxiety levels.(4)

Participants who felt they were exercising in more natural environments also experienced larger decreases in anxiety.

Heading outdoors for a bike ride or a brisk walk might just calm your nerves.


3. Relationship Between Exercise and Stress Response

Regular exercise could help you to cope with stress.

In a 2015 study conducted at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany, an exercise group ran twice per week for 20 weeks, while a control group did not exercise.(5)

Those in the exercise group showed improved emotional responses to the stress of taking academic exams when compared to the control group.

Those who exercised also experienced more favorable physiological responses to stress, characterized by reduced heart rate variability.

A 2014 study in the American Journal of Public Health also found a relationship between exercise and stress reduction.(6)

In the study of 17,000 individuals, researchers found that regular participation in moderate or vigorous exercise lowered distress and the probability of scoring in a high-risk category on the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale.


4. Benefits for Depression

Exercise can serve as an effective treatment for depression.

In a study in a 2011 edition of the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, participants completed either an aerobic exercise program or served in a control group for seven weeks.(7)

After the study period, subjects in the exercise group displayed reduced levels of depression compared to the control group.

Exercisers also had changes in blood serotonin levels, similar to those seen among people taking anti-depressant medications.

Additional research has found similar results.

In 2015, scientists for the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness reviewed eight studies and found that exercise significantly reduced depression among college students.(8)

Furthermore, researchers for a 2013 edition of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine analyzed 30 different studies and found that exercise lowered the risk of future depression.(9)

In fact, relatively low amounts of physical activity, such as walking for less than 150 minutes a week, were found to prevent depression.


5. Mood Improvement

If you have been feeling out of sorts, exercise can boost your mood.

In a 2011 study in Psychophysiology, accelerometers and questionnaires were used to measure women’s physical activity levels, and the women also completed daily mood scales.(10)

Results showed that women who were more physically active reported higher levels of positive moods.

In particular, light- and moderate-intensity exercise were associated with positive moods.

A 2013 study in Psychology and Aging found that exercise could improve mood among both young and old.(11)

Compared to a control group, both younger and older adults who completed 15 minutes of cycling experienced an increase in high-arousal positive moods, such as;

  • happiness,
  • delight,
  • and excitement.


Exercise can put you in a more cheerful mood, and this is just one of several ways that it can improve your mental health.

By making time for regular physical activity, you might protect yourself from debilitating conditions such as anxiety and depression, while also enhancing your self-esteem and ability to cope with stress.

With physical activity showing such a positive impact on emotional and mental health functioning, it is hard to find a reason not to exercise!

Researches and references