Why Fitness Is Good for Mental Health

We are all aware of the physical benefits of exercise; from losing weight to gaining muscle and improving bone health to having a healthier heart, the list goes on. However, did you know physical fitness is also directly related to your mental health? Recent research has shown that our health is indeed holistic and interconnected. Physical exercise has a direct positive impact on mental well-being, including both short-term positivity and long-term benefits.

How Is Physical and Mental Health Related?

Both physical and mental health experts agree that a decline in one is directly correlated to the other. There are several everyday examples that prove this, like having a troubled stomach during stressful situations, or feeling pessimistic when you are down with a cold. The human body and mind work in conjunction with one another, which is why fitness is now widely regarded as a helpful maintenance solution for not only stress, but also depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and even cognitive health.

Mental Health Benefits of Fitness

Fitness refers not just to an occasional workout, but a lifestyle that revolves around eating healthy and including some physical exercise or activity in your daily life. While even the sparse workout is known to release endorphins and leave you feeling optimistic, regular exercise can have a truly profound impact on lasting mental health disorders. 

Mood Changes

If you are struggling with a lingering sadness or even a rapidly fluctuating and unstable mood due to everyday stressors, making some time for exercising daily will have a massive positive impact. Research has indicated that physical activity has an immediate impact on mood. One particular study^ asked participants to rate their mood after periods of physical activity compared to sedentary periods with no activity. It was observed that those who had engaged in some physical activity, even if it was just going for a short walk, felt more positive, calm, and lively. Find this out for yourself with a quick workout, like a brisk walk or a quick 5-minute home workout.

Everyday Stress

A busy work-centered lifestyle or a personal life problem can often leave you feeling stressed. Continued stress does not only hinder one’s daily activities, but can also lead to physical symptoms like changing appetite, disturbed sleep, constant fatigue, headaches, and even stomach problems. This is because the body becomes overwhelmed and fails to regulate emotions. Research+ has shown that light aerobic exercise on a daily basis can greatly improve the mind’s coping mechanisms with stress. Physical activity helps the mind release stress through the body, which leads to better emotional regulation. Working out also helps directly with symptoms like feelings of fatigue and having trouble sleeping.

Depression and Anxiety

A fitness-centric lifestyle is known to alleviate mild symptoms of depression and anxiety. While these disorders are often used interchangeably, their symptoms differ, and exercise helps in different ways depending on what you are going through. With regards to depression, a study found that running for 15 minutes or walking for one hour a day can reduce symptoms of depression by up to 26%! This includes having a low mood, changes in sleep patterns, increased or decreased appetite, and constant negative thoughts. This comes in various ways; not only does the physical act of choosing to exercise provide a distraction from negative thought patterns, but there are also actual changes in the brain; regular exercise leads to the release of endorphins and promotes neural growth#.

Physical activity also helps with anxiety disorders. While anxiety looks and feels different for everyone, it often includes a feeling of stress and panic, leading to dissociation from one’s body and surroundings. Mental health experts suggest working out as a way of breaking the cycle of panic and reconnecting with the physical environment. If you are running, for example, practice mindfulness by focusing on your breathing, noticing the pattern your arms move in, and feeling your feet hitting the ground. Not only will this immediately interrupt overwhelming thoughts, but it will also promote long-term wellbeing by relieving your physical tension and therefore your mental stress.

Cognitive Functioning

Cognitive functions like memory and focus decline with age. Research* shows that physical activity directly improves these functions, which means that a healthy lifestyle can lead to a lower risk of cognitive decline and even age-related conditions like dementia. Daily exercise can also help older citizens lead a more positive lifestyle by reducing the risk of depression, which is directly related to ageing. 

Other Mental Health Benefits of Exercise

Regular exercise is beneficial not only for mental disorders, but also has several daily life benefits that lead to healthier and happier individuals.

  • Sharper memory
  • Enhanced critical thinking
  • Higher self-esteem
  • Positive body image
  • Improved concentration
  • Higher energy and stamina
  • Regulated sleep
  • Healthy appetite

How Much Exercise Do You Need for Good Mental Health?

Research indicates that you do not have to engage in tenuous physical activity or a strict gym routine to reap these benefits; even modest levels of regular physical activity make a difference. 30 minutes of low-intensity exercise 3-5 days a week is proven to have an impact, and is even known to be beneficial for mental health disorders if continued regularly for at least 12 weeks. 

How to Lead a Fit and Healthy Lifestyle

If you have been distanced from working out for a long time, it is not too late to start again! Start small by incorporating more physical activity into your daily life, like taking the stairs at work or walking to the grocery store instead of driving. As your stamina begins to improve, you can begin to wake up earlier for a 15-minute jog, or take an hour-long stroll in the park every other evening. Eventually, you should make mild aerobics a part of your daily life. If you begin to enjoy it, don’t be afraid to move on to further goals like muscle gain. Joining a gym or getting your hands on some quality gym equipment from suppliers like Nirvana Fitness can help you achieve measurable fitness goals.  A heightened sense of purpose, drive and reaching your fitness goals can have a great positive influence on your mental health!


  • ^ Penedo, F.J. & Dahn, J.R. (2005). Exercise and well-being: a review of mental and physical health benefits associated with physical activity. Current Opinion in Psychiatry. 18 (2), 189–193.
  • + Bernstein, E. E., & McNally, R. J. (2017). Acute aerobic exercise helps overcome emotion regulation deficits. Cognition and emotion, 31(4), 834-843.
  • # Dinas, P. C., Koutedakis, Y., & Flouris, A. D. (2011). Effects of exercise and physical activity on depression. Irish journal of medical science, 180(2), 319-325.
  • * Martinez, J.T. (2014). Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. In: A. Clow & S. Edmunds (eds.). Physical activity and mental health. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.