Two women walking enjoying exercise and mental health

Exercise and mental health

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As many people pursue their summer fitness workouts to improve their physical health, we’re looking at the connection between exercise and mental health.


Exercise and your mood

A lot of us know from our own experience that we feel better after we exercise. Some experts think that exercise is changing our levels of endorphins and serotonin. Endorphins can lift your mood while serotonin is a neurotransmitter that can regulate mood, appetite, digestion, memory and sleep. That said, even though most people agree that exercise does improve mood, there is still a debate about precisely how this happens.


Exercise and depression

Several studies specifically look at the relationship between exercise and depression. A 2017 international study led by the Black Dog Institute, suggested that even one hour a week of exercise can protect against depression. They analysed the exercise levels and depression symptoms of nearly 34,000 Norwegians over 11 years and found that 12% of depression cases could have been prevented with small amounts of exercise[1].

For people diagnosed with severe depression, exercise may help to alleviate the symptoms alongside other treatments.


Extra benefits of exercise for your mental health

Here are some other ways exercise can help improve our mental health and wellbeing:

  • A healthy distraction to break a cycle of negative worries and thoughts.
  • Be more optimistic. A study from the University of Queensland suggested that people who exercise regularly have higher levels of optimism. The exercise boosted the participants’ mood and tendency to look on the bright side.
  • Exercising can put you amongst other people, reducing loneliness and social isolation.
  • An increase in your self-esteem as you are taking control of your wellbeing.
  • Get a better night’s sleep.


Recommended exercise

For adults aged 18 to 64, the Department of Health recommends being active on most days of the week. They suggest starting with two and a half hours of moderate physical activity a week and increasing it to five hours. Or one and a quarter hours of vigorous activity that increases to two and a half hours each week.

If you aren’t doing any exercise at the moment and want to start, try doing a little and then steadily build up. Exercise doesn’t have to be extremely vigorous, doing any physical activity is better than doing nothing at all.



[1] Exercise and the Prevention of Depression: Results of the HUNT Cohort Study


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