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Exercise and the Positive Impact on Mental Health

Exercise and the Positive Impact on Mental Health
Dr. Constance Odom, MD Picture of Dr. Constance Odom, MD

Medically reviewed by

Written by our editorial team.

Last Edited 6 min read

You probably know how beneficial exercise can be for your body’s health, but few people understand how positively it impacts mental health. With so many reports of suicide and mental health complications on the rise, finding a way to reduce susceptibility to chronic stress, anxiety, and depression is much needed. Through you should always work with a licensed professional to overcome or manage your mental health condition, you can positively impact your mental health through increased exercise.

Multi-tasking With Activities

People who head to the gym often focus on weight training or aerobic impact, but there is so much more to exercise than that. Your overall health improves as you work on your fitness and weight goals. For men, it gets harder and harder to beat the beer belly or the “dad bod” as you age. Aging, and the additional weight gain, negatively impact areas of men's sexual health. Conditions of ED are more commonly reported and diagnosed as men push past their 40s, and though prescriptions for erection assistance (such as Mt. Everest) can help overcome erectile dysfunction, exercise and diet are long-term treatment support. Exercise improves your waistline, boosts your sex life, and floods your body with new energy levels. Though these are excellent benefits, those who follow a rigorous and routine fitness plan do so for the mental boost it brings.

A Sense of Well-Being

Many of the consistent gym-goers you run into are motivated to work out because of the mental clarity and emotional positives their activity levels bring. Exercise improves daily energy levels, promotes sharp cognitive responses, and leads to better sleep at night. The mental clarity and the release of certain hormones raises feelings of relaxation and leads to a more positive perception of self and their situation. Regular exercise has been shown to be an effective treatment for several mental health challenges as well.  You don’t have to go all out at the gym or quit your job to train for America’s Ninja Warrior in order to feel the positive effects of exercise. Research shows that a moderate amount of exercise and activity, when consistently maintained, can help any age move toward a more positive mental health state.


Some of the more recent studies are showing the significant impact exercise can have on treating mild to moderate depression. In fact, the mental health improvements from running 15 minutes a day to walking at least an hour each day reduces the risk of developing major depression by 26%. Comparisons made between exercise treatment programs and antidepressant medications have had results that favored exercise as the most beneficial. Not only does increased activity help prevent falling into depression, but it can also reduce the risk of a relapse. Exercise promoted neural growth in the brain and decreases inflammation. It also releases endorphins, the chemicals that your body uses to make you feel good and lift your spirits. Exercise can also be used as a distraction to break up a cycle of negative thoughts and give you something else to focus on.


In addition to fighting depression, exercise is an effective anti-anxiety treatment. Rather than zoning out and staying in mental isolation, exercise increases your physical and mental energy levels to relieve stress and tension. The additional release of endorphins can help draw you from your funk and let your focus on what is going on around you. Many people include mindfulness in the exercise routine, where they focus on the rhythm of their running step, the feel of the breeze across a sweaty face, or the sound of their elevated heart rate. Mindfulness can interrupt your thoughts of worry and fear and get you to refocus.


Dealing with stress takes a physical toll on your body. You lose sleep, you become irritable, your body aches, and you can experience chest tightness. Its also common for stress to wreak havoc with your digestive and gastrointestinal system. Bloating, heartburn, diarrhea, and stomachaches are common, and often they just create additional anxiety or stress for the individual. By exercising, you can break this vicious cycle. Physical activity will help your muscles relax and release tension from the body. The close connection between your mind and body is apparent in the effects of exercise on stress, as your body often starts to feel better as your mind feels better.

The Other Conditions


These three areas are the most common mental health concerns among people, but there is a rising number of individuals struggling with ADHD and PTSD. Medication is often needed to stabilize these conditions, but exercise can be used to support the treatment plan and create a total body response. Exercise helps with focus and resetting the nervous system to a more conditioned and natural response to stimulus. These mental health benefits make a strong case for developing a strong exercise or activity routine.


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This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your physician about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Nu Image Medical may not offer the medications or services mentioned in this article.