How exercise improves your mental health

by Stephanie Underhill on Thursday 01 September 2022

3 min read

It probably doesn’t surprise you that physical and mental health are closely connected. Studies have shown that running for 15 minutes per day or walking for an hour per day can decrease the risk of depression by 26 per cent. Exercising regularly is even considered to be as effective in treating acute mental health conditions as some medications.

When you’re physically active, your body releases chemicals such as endorphins and serotonin, which can help make you feel great. Even 30 minutes of exercise, five days per week, can make a huge difference on your overall wellbeing. Here are a few of the mental health benefits that regular activity has to offer. 

Improves sleep

Getting enough sleep is vital for positive mental health. We’ve all experienced feeling sluggish and foggy on days when we haven’t had enough rest. Often the last thing you feel like doing when you’re sleep deprived is go for a jog around the block. However, regular exercise can improve your overall sleep quality and length. Staying active helps to strengthen your circadian rhythm, making you feel awake during the day and sleepy at night.

Provides a sense of achievement

Any exercise is better than no exercise – truly. Even if you can’t achieve the recommended 30 minutes of daily exercise, going for a 10-minute walk on your lunch break, or swimming 15 laps in your local swimming pool in the morning can still have a big impact! Regular exercise brings with it a sense of accomplishment as you set fitness goals and smash them. Whether that means training for a marathon, or incorporating a yoga session into your weekly routine – reaching your activity goals will help to promote total physical and mental wellbeing.

Reduces the risk of mental illness

Exercise is a serious weapon against mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. When you get your heart rate up by engaging in moderate to high intensity activity, more blood and oxygen flows to your brain. This helps stimulate the growth of new brain cells and flood you with chemicals such as serotonin (aka. ‘the happy chemical’). Many health professionals recommend regular physical activity to patients with depression and anxiety because of the positive effect it has on treating these illnesses.

Reduces stress

Stress can tighten your muscles and lead to an array of negative physical conditions. Exercise can help relieve muscle tension and decrease stress by promoting blood flow. Reducing stress can further benefit your physical health by boosting your immune system, so you’re less likely to get sick. Exercising outside or with other people – like playing a team sport or joining a running group – can help you connect with people and nature, and help reduce stress levels further. 

Improves memory and thinking

When you go for a jog, swim a few laps or do some weights at the gym, you’re not only doing wonders for your physical health and fitness, you’re boosting your intellectual abilities too! Physical activity can help sharpen your memory and help you perform at your best. 

There’s no doubt about it – a regular exercise routine can boost your energy, improve your mood and contribute to overall mental wellbeing. You don’t need to be an elite athlete to benefit from staying active. Even a daily brisk walk or a regular gym class can help you experience a stronger sense of mental wellbeing. Introducing small changes can help you start to build healthier habits into your routine. Check out the range of fun, endorphin-inducing fitness group classes on offer at your local Virgin Active Health Club.

Learn a little more

Discover why mental wellbeing should be #1 priority when it comes to our health in this engaging conversation with Nick Bracks, the actor, model and mental health advocate. On Virgin Active's Podcast, Mark and Nick cover deeply important topics about mental stress, men’s mental health, what happiness really is, pandemic anxiety and so much more. You’ll walk away from this episode with more mental health awareness and better skills to build a happier, more content life. Listen to the Virgin Active Minds podcast to take a deeper dive into the relationship between mental health, wellbeing, and exercise.

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