1Life Blog

Mental Health Benefits of Exercise

Posted by Paul Rayner on 20-Nov-2018 16:21:00
Paul Rayner

person doing yoga for mental health purposes


As the winter nights draw in and the temperature drops, the long, hot summer seems like a distant memory now - leaving us all feeling in need of a boost.  You might be surprised to hear then that one of the best things for beating the blues is to get active!

Everyone knows that regular exercise is good for your body, but exercise is also one of the most effective ways to improve your mental health too.  Getting active can have a positive impact on depression and anxiety as well as improving your memory, aiding sleep and lifting your overall mood – with the added benefit of getting fit along the way.

Don’t worry though, you don’t have to be a fitness fanatic to reap the benefits, even a modest amount of exercise can make a big difference, regardless of your age of fitness level.

What are the benefits? 

Apart from all the well-known physical health benefits of exercise another big motivator for people is the sense of well-being you get from being active.  These include feeling more energetic throughout the day, having better self-esteem, feeling more relaxed and sleeping better at night.  The feel good factor is thanks to chemicals called ‘endorphins’ which are released during and after exercise, these trigger a positive feeling in your body.

Exercise is thought to be as effective at treating depression as medication.  There are several reasons it is believed to be a powerful depression fighter as it promotes all kinds of changes in the brain, including neural growth, reduced inflammation, and new activity patterns that promote feelings of calm and well-being.  Exercise is also thought to act as a distraction, allowing you some time out of your busy lifestyle and an opportunity to refocus. 

What type of exercise is best?

The good news is that when it comes to improving your mental health, any physical activity is better than nothing. Aiming for regular moderate activity, could maximise the benefits though, so doing enough to raise your heart beat and feel slightly out of breath, without feeling uncomfortable.  You don’t need to suffer to see results, you can reap all the physical and mental health benefits of exercise with 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times a week. If that doesn’t sound doable, two 15 minute or even three 10 minute exercise sessions can also work just as well.  Here are some suggested activities for you to try:

Getting started

So now you know that exercise can be a real mood-booster without having to spend hours pounding away on a treadmill, what is stopping you?  Quite often taking that first step is easier said than done, particularly when you’re also struggling with mental health problems. Here are a few common exercise barriers that people face and what you can do to get over them.

1. Feeling exhausted. When you’re tired or stressed, it can be a struggle to muster the energy for anything strenuous. However it’s worth bearing in mind that physical activity is a powerful energiser. Studies show that regular exercise can dramatically reduce fatigue and increase your energy levels. If you are really feeling tired, aim to get out for a quick 5 minute walk in your lunch break, it’s likely that once you get going you’ll manage more than 5 minutes and you’ll feel energised for the afternoon.

2. Feeling overwhelmed. When you’re stressed or depressed, the thought of adding another obligation to your already hectic life can seem overwhelming. Just remember that physical activity helps you perform better in other aspects of your life, so make exercise a priority. Once you get in to a routine, you’ll soon find ways to fit small amounts of exercise in to your busy schedule.

3. Feeling hopeless. Even if you’re starting from scratch you can still work-out and find an exercise to suit you. If you have no experience of exercising, start slow with low-impact activities for a few minutes each day and build it up as your fitness improves. Not only will your physical health benefit, you’ll also feel a great sense of achievement. 

Remember, no matter what your weight, age or fitness level, there are others like you with the same goal of getting fit.  Sign up for a group exercise class, there’ll be people there of all fitness levels and it can be a great motivator, you could even make some new friends along the way.

For more information about how 1Life can support you on your health, fitness and wellbeing journey simply call into your local centre or fill out our contact form – we have a team of qualified and friendly specialists on hand to help and guide you on your way!